Survey gives APS clearer picture about possible return to referendum

Published 7:27 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2022

During its Monday night meeting, the Austin Public Schools received a report lending positivity to a possible new operating levy referendum.

While mostly leaning toward a positive reception for another attempt at raising per student spending, it also came with some caution from Advisory Baker Tilly’s Dr.  Don Lifto, who briefed the board on the results of a survey that was conducted in April.

The school last tried to raise its incredibly low per student spending of $42.70 in 2020. If passed, it would have raised that amount by $505 to $547, however, voters turned it down.

Now, the district is looking to possibly get that back on the ballot. The survey in question interviewed 300 registered voters in the district and initial results for a referendum showed a slim margin of support at 48% in favor against 41% opposed, leaving another 11% as having no opinion.

“It’s tepid,” Lifto told the board. “It certainly wasn’t overwhelming. That’s not surprising.”

However, the initial support question was just the start and was used as a base to help demonstrate how some might change their mind with more information.

After a set of follow-up questions, that support grew to 62.4%.

“That’s significant movement in the right direction,” Lifto said. “That’s exactly what you want to see.”

One of the questions asked during the survey had to do with potential property tax increases at values of $150, $190, $230 and $270 on an average home valued at $170,000.

When averaged out, the survey generally reflected a rise of around $135 per year, but that it could go as high as voters being willing to absorb a $145 potential increase.

However, despite these positive results, Lifto cautioned the Board about going to far, simply because the future is unknowable, especially citing COVID-19 and rise of prices in consumer goods.

“We have to recognize that’s a fact,” Lifto said. “Be cautious of pushing the envelope too much.”

The Board will now take the data and look further into the viability of adding another referendum.