By B. Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– School officials are courting voters for a Feb. 5, 2013, district-wide vote to change the way they fund facilities.
Taking a long-term perspective, Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) administrators are campaigning for votes in favor of a new revenue purpose statement (RPS) to construct or renovate buildings district by district.
The state-mandated RPS, which provides districts the legal authority to plan long-term and develop a comprehensive plan with details for facility improvements and construction, is not a construction schedule, just a public statement about where the money is being allocated.
The current ICCSD RPS is set to expire in 2017, and limits the borrowing power of the district. A new RPS would enable the district to borrow millions against revenues up to 2029.
The schools’ biggest campaign talking point is that a new RPS will not raise taxes, but instead borrow against future funding from a state tax program.
The district also points to a favorable borrowing climate, with interest rates less than three percent, and could borrow more through the anticipated revenue stream, allowing for larger projects to proceed easily.
The new RPS will allow ICCSD to borrow up to $100 million on future revenues from the statewide sales tax, Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE). Passed by the legislature in 2008, SAVE funds will be available until 2029. Without an RPS, however, SAVE funds cannot be spent at the district’s discretion.
At a school board meeting on Nov. 6, Superintendent Stephen Murley explained that if the RPS is approved by voters, the district would “change the content of our comprehensive facilities plan because we’ll have access to greater dollars now than we will later.”
He promised a new comprehensive facilities plan would come in draft form before the board by the end of the year to be officially approved in February so the schools can take advantage of the summer construction season.
Murley said the new revenue purpose statement would give current and future school boards “the greatest level of flexibility, the greatest amount of discretion to determine how SAVE dollars are spent through that entire 17-year period.”
SAVE money can only be spent at the district’s discretion if an RPS is passed by a simple 50-percent plus-one vote. Only voters in the district will vote on it, unlike the county-wide SILO vote in 2007.
The new RPS was written to allow broad latitude for board actions, but Murley acknowledged it was hard to predict that far ahead.
“We don’t know what will change between now and 2029,” Murley said.
The board tabled its discussion about changing the superintendent limitation that would specify SAVE funds allocations. The existing limitation on SILO revenues for 2007-17 amounts to $20 million for the construction of two new elementary schools and $32 million for a new high school.
In September, the board’s facility committee saw the early version of an administration plan, called “One community, One district, One plan” that outlined steps for purchase of multiple tracts of land for future building sites, possibly up to three new elementary schools, some additions to existing schools, and funding a plan for a new high school. The school district is also working to update air conditioning, ADA accessibility, electrical and lighting, and building envelope maintenance throughout the district’s 25 schools. They put a low estimate of $30 million on existing facility needs.
Borrowing against future SAVE funds will not pay for new teachers or classroom technologies. The money can be spent only on construction and physical needs of school structures.
The schools have also put together an informational website easily accessed from their home page or directly at www.edline.net/pages/ICCSD/Community/Revenue_Purpose_Statement_Vote .
In a frequently-asked-questions guide to the new RPS, Dr. Craig Hansel, ICCSD’s financial director, wrote that the district should borrow against the anticipated revenue stream through SAVE because of the continued increase of student enrollment.
“Our traditional use of sales tax funds under the pay-as-you-go method is simply not enough, soon enough, to address these student growth needs,” Hansel noted.
A series of seven informational meetings about the district’s new RPS ballot initiative begins at City High on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m., followed by another the next week at 7 p.m. on Nov. 26, at North Central Junior High School in North Liberty.
Murley and Hansel held a press conference about the revenue purpose statement ballot on Monday, Nov. 12.