Guest Comment: Referendum News Now Live – Austin Daily Herald

By Dr. Joey Page

With students out of school for the summer, we are already busy preparing for another successful school year and pursuing important plans for a brighter future at Austin Public Schools.

The school board recently approved a long-term strategic plan that provides a solid vision for the district to follow in the years to come. The priorities outlined in the strategic plan include ensuring a safe and welcoming learning environment, developing strong character traits in our students, and providing the best support and resources. In addition, we are committed to maintaining excellence in the management of our resources.

As we review the district’s operating budget, we face financial challenges that threaten our ability to maintain class sizes, staff levels and educational programs. State funding has not kept up with inflation for over a decade, leaving our district to run a budget shortfall for the past five years.

To address this issue, the district sought approval for a referendum in 2020 that would have raised our operating tax to $505 per student. This levy was not approved and the only reason cuts were not needed was the influx of COVID relief funds and grants.

Now these one-time funds are coming to an end. Without a new source of revenue, our district faces a budget shortfall of $3 million next year. That’s why the school board will ask Austin-area voters in November to raise the district’s operating tax by $470 per student for ten years. If approved, this investment in our schools would generate $2.4 million in new revenue per year, stabilizing the budget and allowing us to maintain current class sizes and program offerings.

Across Minnesota, 70% of school districts rely on operating levies to avoid cutting their budgets. The operating levy for Austin public schools is the lowest in the region at $42.70 per student per year. By comparison, public schools in Rochester have an operating tax of $820.97 per student, and schools in the Albert Lea area have an operating tax of $620.22 per student.

Additional funding from an increase in operating levies would directly support our district’s curriculum and after-school programs. We pride ourselves on being able to offer a wide range of services, including additional tutoring and intervention programs, to ensure that all students have the support they need to thrive.

Outside of the classroom, we take great pride in our comprehensive Packer operations. The District’s combination of academic and extracurricular programs helps us provide a comprehensive learning environment for all of our students.students.

We recognize that our request for an operating tax increase is an important community decision. To help keep residents informed, our district launched a dedicated referendum website at AccelerateAustin.org. I encourage everyone to visit this website to learn more about our schools’ needs, plan benefits, tax impact, and voting. The website also provides answers to frequently asked questions, a tax calculator, and more.

If you have any questions or comments about the referendum, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can contact me by email at [email protected] or by phone at 507-460-1900.

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