APS: Upcoming decision important for district

Published 5:20 pm Friday, October 14, 2022

By Katie Ulwelling

As an Austin School Board member, I see firsthand the deep commitment of our faculty and staff to provide a quality education for our kids. I have seen this commitment from a personal perspective as well, with three children who attended Austin Public Schools and now two grandchildren enrolled in our district.

I am writing today about an important community decision that will impact the future of our schools – the Nov. 8 referendum to increase the school operating levy.

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Austin Public Schools strives to provide students with the support they need to grow and thrive.

Students can receive extra support in academic subjects like reading and math, and participate in athletics, the arts, and numerous other extracurricular activities.  They can explore options to further  their education or get a closer look at potential careers. By the time they graduate from high school,  many Packers have earned college credits or have had hands-on experience in technical careers.

Now, our school district is facing serious financial challenges. For more than a decade, state funding has failed to keep up with the rising cost of education. While we have done our  best to effectively manage costs over the years, the district had to make some budget cuts in 2020 after voters declined to increase the operating levy. We were fortunate to have access to COVID relief funding to help reduce the impact of those cuts, but that funding is quickly coming to an end.

Next year, the district faces a $3 million budget deficit. Without additional revenue, our district will need to make additional spending cuts which will likely lead to larger class sizes and reductions in educational programming and student services.

To offset operational costs when state and federal funding falls short, hundreds of Minnesota school  districts have turned to an operating levy to close the gap. For years, Austin has ranked lowest in the Big  Nine, with per pupil general education revenue of $42.70. The Austin School Board is proposing to  increase this from $42.70 to $512.70 per student. This proposed increase still places us in the bottom half of the Big Nine schools. By comparison, Albert Lea operates at $580.99 per pupil and Rochester has an operating levy of $878.89 per pupil. If approved, the new levy would generate $2.4 million per year,  which would stabilize the district’s finances. The proposed increase would cost an estimated $12 per  month for an owner of a home valued at $170,000.   This is a community decision that will impact all of us. Visit AccelerateAustin.org to learn more about  the referendum. Please become informed and get answers to your questions before you cast your  ballot on Nov. 8.   

Thank you.