Three new faces elected to APS board

Published 5:53 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2020

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Referendum to boost operating levy fails


The Austin Public Schools board will see three new faces and the return of an incumbent after the unofficial results were finally tallied Wednesday afternoon.

At the same time, the referendum for an operating levy was defeated in the final moments of Wednesday afternoon 5,980 to 5,872. The final count as of noon on Friday was 6,075 to 5,958.

Cece Kroc

Katie Ulwelling

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Cece Kroc and Evan Sorenson claimed solid wins with 4,959 and 4,601 votes respectively.

“I am honored and humbled to take a seat on the Austin school board,” Kroc said. “I have so much respect for our system here and am excited to be a part of it.”

Coming into this week’s election, Kroc was finding some mixed feelings in terms of those she has been running against.

“This was really difficult,” she said. “When you live your whole life in your community and know all the people who are running and have respect for all of them. There’s not one of them I wouldn’t vote for and the existing board has been very productive.”

Sorenson expressed many of the same thoughts as Kroc. The Mower County deputy said he’s looking forward to being able to give back to the community he has lived in throughout his life.

“I feel excited,” he said. “I feel like it’s an awesome opportunity and I’m willing to give back to the district I graduated from and the community I’ve lived in. I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve the district and students and staff.”

Sorenson also indicated he was looking forward to taking part in the search for a new superintendent.

Evan Sorenson

Don Leathers

“I’m excited to do my part in the process,” Sorenson said. “I’m looking forward to getting feedback from the staff and even students. I plan on contacting all of those groups and getting input. I’m really hoping that we can get some good candidates and make the best of the decisions as we can.”

Incumbent Don Leathers had the third highest vote total at 4,331 to claim the third elected spot.

Not only was he happy to continue serving, but he was also happy with all of those who ran.

“We had seven very qualified candidates on the four-year side and two good candidates on the two-year side,” he said. “It becomes a yard sign, it becomes a card you put in a mailbox. You relied on past connections you’ve made over the years.”

Meanwhile, in the special election that would fill the seat vacated by Don Fox, who retired two years into his four-year term, Katie Ulwelling claimed a commanding win over Carol McAlister, 7,239 votes to 3,918.

“I want to thank everybody who took the time to vote,” Ulwelling said. “It was a huge turnout and everyone really took seriously the right to have their voice heard.”

Fox announced earlier this year that he would be stepping down from his four-year term early, prompting the special election. Unlike the three elected in the regular election, who will start their terms in January, Ulwelling will start her term this month, putting her at the forefront of the search to replace David Krenz, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of that process,” Ulwelling said. “I want to make sure we’re very diligent about that and not just push that selection process through.”

However, the disappointment of the day came with the rejection of the operating levy that had been supported throughout most of the day as the votes were coming in. But late in the afternoon, a sudden push of votes pushed the needle back into the “no” category.

“It’s disappointing,” Sorenson said. “The school board is going to have to get creative to work around the loss. I’m confident that if we can work together as a team and collaborate with stakeholders and experts the district can provide the high quality services we’re used to.”

Had the levy been passed, it would have raised the cost per student by $505 dollars from the $42 per student, which has been the lowest in the Big Nine Conference by far for years.

The length of the levy would have been 10 years and would have significantly raised school revenue, which has leveled out as the school population has plateaued in the last couple years.