APS column: You’ll shape the future of our schools on Nov. 8

Published 5:49 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

By Dr. Joey Page

Austin Public Schools Superintendent

As you may have seen in recent Austin Packer Bulletins, it is an exciting time of year at Austin Public Schools.

In addition to our fall activities, we are looking ahead to the district’s operating levy referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. If approved, the district’s existing levy would be increased by $470 per pupil, or $2.4 million a year, to help stabilize the district’s finances.

Like many school districts across the state, Austin Public Schools is struggling to manage the rising cost of education as state funding continues to lag the rate of inflation. Without additional revenue, our district will face an estimated budget deficit of $3 million for the next school year (2023-24). To balance the budget, the district would likely need to make cuts to staff and educational programming that would impact learning.

If the levy is approved, the owner of a home with a market value of $170,000 would see a property tax increase of $12 per month. We recognize this is a significant community investment. With early voting already underway, I wanted to take this opportunity to address a few of the most common questions that I have received from residents.

Why is the school board asking for a levy increase now as inflation continues to rise?

Inflation affects schools, too. In fact, over the past decade, per-pupil reimbursement from the State of Minnesota has not kept up with rising costs, forcing schools across the state to do more with less. Many districts across the state have turned to voter-approved operating levy increases to combat the lack of adequate funding. Levy increases allow communities to take matters into their own hands and provide schools with the support they need to maintain their operations.

How will this investment plan help our students perform better in the classroom?

We can’t cut our way to success. Austin Public Schools offers a range of enhanced learning options for all our K-12 students, including college-level courses and vocational programs. We also offer a variety of extracurricular activities and athletics. This plan will help the district avoid significant budget cuts and maintain these important student programs and services.

What is the difference between an operating levy and a bond referendum?

It’s helpful to remember that levies are for learning and bonds are for building. Austin Public Schools is asking for an operating levy to help with day-to-day expenses like salaries for instructional staff, student programs, educational supplies, and utilities. On the other hand, a bond referendum supports large-scale facility initiatives like renovating or repairing school buildings. Legally, the district is required to keep operating funds separate from capital funds and cannot transfer money from one fund to the other.

Would this operating levy be permanent?

The proposed levy would be in place for 10 years. After that, district voters would need to reauthorize the levy for it to continue.

I encourage all residents to visit the referendum website, AccelerateAustin.org, to learn more about the school district’s financial challenges and our plan to address them. I’m always happy to answer your questions directly, so feel free to contact me at 1-507-460-1900 or joey.page@austin.k12.mn.us.

As I noted, early voting has already started. If you requested an absentee ballot, make sure to return it to your county courthouse by 3 p.m. on Nov. 8. Or you can vote in person at the polls on Election Day. Make your voice heard on this important community decision.