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APS makes case for referendum

Austin Public Schools will once again be asking voters this November for a referendum that will see a significant, but not unwarranted rise per student.

The operating referendum in question would see a raise in per student funding by $505. ​The current operating referendum level is $42.70 per student and would be adjusted to $547 ​per student upon passage. The increased operating referendum would provide additional funding to the school district to meet the needs of the educational system.

“Just to emphasize, other districts have had to raise their operating referendums in prior years and we’ve been able to hold off because we’ve been growing,” said APS Finance Officer Lori Volz. “We’ve definitely done everything we can do for the benefit of the taxpayer. Now we’re at a crossroads.”

Graphic provided by Austin Public Schools

Currently, APS ranks at the bottom of Big 9 schools when it comes to operating expense per student. Northfield tops the schools at $1,748.96 per student. The conference average is around $800 while statewide that average is over $1,040.

Even with the increase per student, APS would still sit in the bottom half of schools in the Big 9.

“This will be tremendous in correction for this financial challenge,” Volz said. “We’ve taken a variety of things into consideration and a variety of scenarios. Our goal is to come once to the public and then we’re good.”

Should voters approve the operating referendum it would increase school revenues by $2.8 million per year for the length of 10 years. Of those revenues, 49 percent would come from the state while 51 percent would come from the local levy.

The requested increase put before the voters is there because of a plateauing of enrollment within the district, a change from the last 10 years or so, where increased enrollment allowed the APS to keep the per student spending at the low rate.

That has changed over the last couple years, and despite cost-saving measures implemented at the school that saved the district nearly $1.3 million dollars, it has not been enough to offset losses related to the evening out of enrollment.

Upon passage, homeowners with a market value of $125,000 would see an increase of $9.95 a month.

The plateauing effect APS is seeing is rooted in a variety of reasons, some of which relate directly to the COVID-19 pandemic as families are placing their students in private schools, opting for home schooling or some other method of public schooling.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Corey Haugen reported that enrollment was down by 223 students, which Volz echoed.

However, there are indications that enrollment will pick up again in the future.

“Based on a demographic study that was done a couple years back, we do project that we’ll grow again,” Volz said. “That wasn’t happening in the last couple years.”