Aging facilities, predicted growth need addressed

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March 28, 2014 | 10:29 am

By Jeff McGinness

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Many thoughtful questions have arisen regarding the Feb. 5 revenue purpose statement (RPS) vote. Approval of the referendum would allow the school district to more effectively address the immediate needs of our aging facilities and the overcrowding at many of our schools, and anticipate and plan for the predicted growth.

In a district where trust and transparency are rightfully expected, the predominant questions from stakeholders are an indication of the high level of parental and community involvement we are fortunate to have. With this in mind, and as only one of seven board members, I will attempt to address these concerns.

WHAT’S THE RUSH?

At the outset of our decision to move forward with the RPS vote, it was made clear to the board and the community that we would not have the entirety of the information and data needed to lay out a complete or step-by-step facility plan. Information such an accurate building-capacity analysis, enrollment predictions beyond five years, and a building-by-building cost to own/operate have not been done and will provide data necessary to form a “detailed” plan. Notwithstanding the lacking data, the administrative team recommended, and the board determined, to move forward with the vote.

Perhaps one of my fellow board members put it best at one of the RPS presentations when she said the urgency is to address the needs of our students in seats now — not in a year or two from now. Stated another way, each kid only gets one chance at a fair and equitable education and overcrowding and other facility-related issues present impediments to effective teaching and learning. Nothing exemplifies the urgency of the situation better than the 41 “temporary” buildings we have in use in our district and the more than 1,000 students we have added in the last three years. The February vote, if successful, would allow the district to address many of the pressing repair and renovation needs yet this summer and expedite the advance planning needed for major additions and new facilities.

EXPECTED PROJECTS

Unlike a general obligation bond, the reauthorization of the RPS is not a vote on a detailed project list. Rather, the RPS vote asks the voters to grant local board control over the use of the 1-cent statewide sales tax — a tax that will continue regardless of the outcome of the vote. Specifically, it will allow the board to continue to use the district’s sales tax allocation as we have in the past on items such as new buildings, renovations, additions, technology, and family resource centers.

Understandably, the distinction between a general obligation bond and the RPS has caused many to ask what projects exactly does the board anticipate if the RPS is reauthorized. A large piece of the “what” was shared with and discussed by the board on Dec. 4, via a document entitled “ONE Plan,” available online (http://www.edline.net/pages/ICCSD/Community/Revenue_Purpose_Statement_Vote)

While not a comprehensiveplan, this document was endorsed unanimously by the board as the “vision” of our facility plan and includes an identification and prioritization fund usage. For example, the plan would call for approximately $30 million in funds to be earmarked in 2013 to address repair and renovation needs across our district, as well as major addition needs at Penn Elementary. While providing for flexibility, it outlines two new elementary schools on the east and southeast side of the district to address existing capacity issues.

Finally, it calls for a new north elementary school, an addition to North Central Junior High, and a new comprehensive high school to address both existing and expected overcrowding issues, as well as predicted growth in the future.

We are both an aging and a growing district encompassing six municipalities. Despite the past and current divides over various “wedge” issues, it is my belief that passage of the RPS will enable the board to take the first step in addressing the needs on a district-wide basis. Therefore, I ask that you join me in voting “yes” for the future of our schools and students.

Jeff McGinness is a member of the Iowa City school board. Comments: Jeff.McGinness@iccsd.k12.ia.us

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