By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s not just candidates on the ballot this election season, school referendums are up for vote too.

Thirty-three school districts are seeking operating levies in Minnesota. In Austin, the school district is asking for an operating referendum for the first time since 2003.
“Right now we are one of 27 or 30 districts in the state with a minority-majority population,” said Superintendent Dave Krenz.
Over the past decade, Krenz has watched Austin’s school enrollment grow by about a thousand. Many of those incoming students are from immigrant families who found work at packing plants in the city.
“Our operating referendum is very low, only at $42 a pupil. The state average is $1040 per pupil,” said Lori Volz, Executive Director of Finance and Operations.
During a pandemic and Presidential election year, the district is asking taxpayers to help close that gap. The referendum on the table would take them from $42 per student to nearly $550 per student.
If the referendum passes the owner of a $125,000 home in Austin would pay just under $10 a month. If it fails, the school district will have to look at other alternatives.
That could mean cuts to English Language instructors and programs.
“There’s a cost involved but the better educated we make our children the better they will be down the road,” said John Aurit, resident.
“Obviously our school is in the neighborhood and we walk past the kids every day. I want them to have more resources,” said Savannah Lockwood, resident.
Krenz believes the referendum is the best way to make that happen.
“Our students need multiple exposures so they can build on their strengths, not on just the core academics,” said Krenz.
If the referendum fails in Austin, Krenz said class sizes would also likely increase. Krenz added that inflation has gone up while enrollment has plateaued, another reasoner feels the referendum is needed.

John Lauritsen

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