By Deb Thornton
The People for All committee has been set up to educate and inform Iowa City Community School District voters about Tuesday’s vote on the proposed revenue purpose statement. We also are encouraging a “no” vote for a variety of reasons.
The school district has had full access to 100 percent of the SILO (now SAVE, Statewide School Infrastructure Sales and Services Tax) tax revenue for the last five years, millions of dollars. This money has been spent without a clear plan and without knowing the difference between “wants” and “needs.” Often the projects that had the strongest lobbying effort received money — though other needs critical to the learning success of our children were continually delayed, such as air conditioning and remodeling of older buildings.
The new RPS would give the district access to the next 17 years of SAVE money through advance bonding, an estimated $100 million of our tax money. The intent of the RPS is to allow earlier access to this tax money, versus regular, monthly receipts from the state. This RPS will not impose a new tax, but will allow significant advance spending of future potential taxes.
We do not think the spending plan outlined is sufficient to allow this access. After Tuesday’s vote, no further citizen authorization to spend this money is required.
Importantly, the reports on building repair needs and capacity will not be available until after the vote. The student number projections will not be available either. The district is putting the cart before the horse. In contrast, even with blueprints and clear designs — the Johnson County Justice Center — which would have used only half of the money we the district’s RPS would authorize to spend — was defeated last fall.
Significant additional information and planning must be done before authorizing spending this much tax money. If defeated, the current RPS would remain in place until 2017. There is sufficient time to revise the RPS before the authorization ends, and once we have better information on building needs and student populations.
The fear mongering of the “One” committee and district administration — that if we do not vote for this, the state will tell us what to do with the money — is irresponsible. When the Legislature took over the SILO tax and made it a statewide tax, permanent until 2029, it established what would be done with the money if the school board did not have an RPS in place. This was a proper role of the Legislature in deciding how to spend state tax money. By law, if there were no RPS, the money would be used for paying off current bonds and property tax reductions. This would provide benefits to taxpayers.
The current RPS allows not only new buildings, but allocates money for technology development and pays for the Family Resource Centers.
The critical questions regarding the proposed new RPS: Do we trust the district to spend $100 million wisely? What will the district do in 2025 or 2029? When the SAVE money is gone? When the district decides it needs yet another new building after building the elementary schools and a new high school?
The recent history of decision making and actions by the district and the superintendent has led us to decide to vote “no.” Allowing access to $100 million, almost immediately — without better plans and more information — is not a sensible decision.
You can vote at the auditor’s office any weekday, the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics today or the Iowa City Public Library on Friday. Please vote “no.”
Deb Thornton of Iowa City is a member and unofficial chair of the People for All committee. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org