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Deciding where sales tax money goes

SOLON– It’s that penny in sales tax you pay.
In 2008, the Iowa Legislature repealed the School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) and put in its place the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) one percent sales tax.
Statewide, the sales tax in Iowa is now six percent (6%).
Money generated by the tax is collected and divided equally per-pupil and dispersed to community school districts. The schools must make a general declaration to the public and the state government of how the sales tax funds will be spent– the Revenue Purpose Statement (RPS).
And that brings us to the Tuesday, Sept. 13, school election.
On the ballot for Solon Community School District (SCSD) residents will be a new Revenue Purpose Statement, and voters are being asked to approve it. The full text appeared in the Aug. 24 edition of the Economist, but it boils down to spending on infrastructure and equipment– almost anything but salaries and expenses associated with employees. The short list includes: funds for building, remodeling or additions; the purchase of land, equipment or technology; unanticipated repairs; recreation facilities; the payment of bonds for the above-named expenses; and, of course, property tax relief.
The latter isn’t likely in a direct way, given the budget-strapped nature of public education in the last two years.
And the kicker is that the new statement won’t impact current funding– it doesn’t go into effect until 2017.
Not the sexiest ballot issue in the world.
But it comes at a time of a contested school board election (three candidates for two seats), so people should at least understand what they’re voting for.
Which is why Solon Superintendent Sam Miller is trying to educate voters about the statement before the election.
Miller prepared a set of frequently-asked questions regarding the RPS in the district’s newsletter published last week in the September issue of North Johnson County (page 14), and there’s primarily one thing he wants everyone to understand; it’s not a new tax.
“This isn’t asking you to be taxed,” he said in an interview Thursday. “That’s happening because of legislative action.
“Some people vote against it because they think their taxes are going up,” he continued. “But the RPS has nothing to do with that.”
The sales tax is already in place, it’s been in place, and the RPS is just a quirky requirement by the state. “They want a definition of how you’re going to spend it,” he said. “Well, they give you the definition of how you can spend it.”
A little confusing, he said, but okay.
So the RPS reflects some very general areas as defined by state law, and the community is being asked to support them.
Currently, the bulk of the district’s sales tax funding (over 90 percent) goes to the repayment of $5.95 million in bonds for the Lakeview Elementary expansion and the overhaul of the Solon Middle School’s heating and cooling systems.
SILO funds have also been utilized on technology and transportation purchases.
Even though the RPS for 2017-2029 is very vague, Miller has an inkling where the money will eventually go.
“We’re a growing district, so the first thing that we’re talking about is facilities,” he said. “Our enrollment’s going to be up again this year.”
Unless an influx of students occurs, he continued, the district’s facilities should be able to keep up with growth for five years. “But, five years out, if we keep growing at anywhere from 10 to 50 students a year, well, if you take that out five or six or seven years, that’s probably a school.”
The high school, he said, is a great example.
Built for a capacity of 500 students, the high school opened in September of 2002 with about 340 students. This year, there are approximately 450.
“It’s still under capacity,” he noted, “but it’s increased its enrollment pretty significantly.”
And while the district has several “bubble” grade levels that are larger than the others, Miller observed, most now have 100 students or more. In the 2004-05 school year, for example, there were only two– kindergarten and third grade.
“If we need to build or expand any of our buildings, that (SAVE) funding will be there,” he summarized. The SCSD Board of Education has been discussing some long-term strategic planning, he said, and part of that planning will include a facilities committee.
“First and foremost, that’s the thing we’re going to be looking at,” he concluded. “Making sure we’ve got enough space for students.”