APS Column: Referendum a community decision

Published 8:27 pm Friday, August 12, 2022

By Kathy Green

Austin Public Schools Chairperson

Hello. My name is Kathy Green and I am the chairperson of the Austin School Board. Over the past year, the Austin school district has seen numerous changes, including a new superintendent, turnover in administration, and an increased focus on strategic planning. Throughout all of this, our guiding principle has been to inspire, empower, and accelerate our students.

I first got involved in education when my children were elementary students. A tight budget led to the copy paper supply running out in March and, as a parent, I took on the challenge of understanding complex federal and state education funding and learned that local support came from the community passing local levies. This led to my interest in how the district is run and, in turn, to my running for school board.

That was a long time ago and my sons are now grown, some with their own children. I am proud to say that they are exploring issues related to education as well, and we’ve had many conversations about the financial challenges districts face along with the threat of canceled programs. It is moments like these that remind me how important it is to have a stable budget that supports educational programs and supplies for our students.

My focus during my time on the Austin School Board has been on providing support for our high-quality staff and programming, which are critical to meeting the needs of all our students. In April, the school board approved a strategic plan outlining our vision for the future of Austin Public Schools. Our strategic directions from this plan include providing a safe and welcoming learning environment, developing a Packer Profile for all students, providing multi-tiered systems of support, and excellence in resource management. To accomplish these critical goals, we need to understand the district’s financial condition as we move forward.

For over a decade, state funding for school districts has lagged behind the cost of inflation. As a district, we have worked to be good stewards of the district’s finances through cost management, long-term planning, and leveraging one-time COVID relief funds. These have helped us manage in recent years, but now we are facing a $3 million deficit ahead of the 2023-2024 school year. Without additional funding, the district will need to consider budget cuts leading to an increase in class sizes and a reduction in educational programming.

The district is proposing an increase in the school operating levy from $42.70 to $512.70 per student to maintain our current level of services and support, and on Nov. 8, voters will decide whether to make this investment in the future of our schools. If approved, the new levy would generate $2.4 million in revenue annually while an average value home of $170,000 could see an additional $12 per month in property taxes.

This is an important community decision, and I encourage everyone to visit AccelerateAustin.org, the district’s dedicated referendum website, to learn more about our school needs, the cost for taxpayers, and the impact of the referendum on our students. And don’t forget to vote on or before Nov. 8. If you have questions, you can reach out to me at kathy.green@austin.k12.mn.us.

Thank you.