Cedar Rapids school board skipping first chance for re-vote on PPEL

Board members to discuss options at Jan. 27 work session

Published: December 20 2013 | 12:35 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:07 am in
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Friday was the deadline for the Cedar Rapids Community School District to file paperwork with the Linn County Auditor for a Feb. 4, 2014 special election, the district’s first opportunity at a second chance after voters rejected the district’s request to double its Physical Plant and Equipment Levy in September.

School board members and administrators have opted not to move forward with the February vote, planning instead to regroup and discuss strategy at a board work session set for Monday, Jan. 27.

“February was probably a little too soon,” said Board Member John Laverty. “I think there needs to be a little more reflection on the part of the board and the key stakeholders in the school district as to what messages did the community not hear or need to hear more of in terms of what (the levy) does for the school district.”

Cedar Rapids’ existing Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, which provides funds for building and vehicle upgrades and maintenance, is 67 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation and expires June 30, 2015. Voters turned down a proposal to raise the tax rate to $1.34 per $1,000 for 10 years beginning July 1, 2015.

School board members now have the chance to return to voters with the same rate – which will provide an additional $3.46 million annually for the district – a smaller increase or a renewal.

“It has to come back to the public at some point,” Laverty said. “The district definitely needs it and I think we clearly demonstrate what those funds will be used for.”

After February, the next available election date is April 1, 2014.

“We are still thinking about April or actually even later,” said School Board President Mary Meisterling. “We want to make sure we get good information out to all of our constituents in the community and move forward more strategically.”

Meisterling avoided speaking for her six board colleagues, but personally supports returning to voters with the $1.34 per $1,000 rate.

Meisterling attributed the levy question’s failure in September in part to low voter turnout, and both she and Laverty stressed the importance of communicating with the public and area business leaders moving forward.

“I think that there were a lot of people in our buildings, parents, some of the teachers who live in the district, weren’t fully aware of how that minimal investment could really help the district,” he said. “The more we can create that buzz in the community, the better.”

Laverty has already begun those efforts by commenting on building projects, drawing special attention to them during recent school board meetings.

“I don’t think that most people, when it’s in the consent agenda, completely understand what that special bucket of money does overall to support students and their education,” he said. “I just want to make sure the public understand better what that money pays for.”

Board members and administrators have already discussed posting signs in each district building that include which projects will be completed using Physical Plant and Equipment Levy dollars. Meisterling also suggested that board members could attend PTA meetings and lead discussions about the levy.

“We make sure folks are aware of what the specific needs for that building where their kids attend,” she said. “I think when you make that personal connection of how it impacts their building, I think that makes a big difference.”

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