More readers speak out for and against the school bond

Plan piles on too much debt
Following are some of the thoughts that are going through my mind as I contemplate my vote on the school bond issue.

• Waukee just passed a $117,000,000, with an enrollment of approximately 10,000 students, or about $11,700 per student. We are looking at a $35,480,000 project with an enrollment of 1,000 students, or $35,480 per student, or a little over 300 percent of what Waukee approved.

Dropping back to the $21,480,000 for the bond issue equals $21,480 per student, or still 183 percent of what Waukee has committed to.

• The Iowa Report Card rating for our district is as follows: The elementary school received an “excellent” rating, the highest rating possible. The middle and high school received an “acceptable” rating.

There are six rating classifications, so our grade school was rated in the first tier, and our middle and high school in the fourth tier out of six. All of Waukee’s schools were ranked in the top three classifications.

There is a principle in management that suggests that the last thing you want to do with entities that are not being managed at optimal levels is to give them more to manage.

• The Iowa Central Community College just passed their own $25,500,000 bond issue, a portion of which is our district’s responsibility. It is to be used for facilities and training in the trades.

In our district, 401 persons voted, or approximately 7 percent of the eligible voters, and 157 of those votes were not in favor of the bond issue. The participation in the vote in the other eight districts making up the community college district was also very small.

What does that say about the regional commitment to the cause?

• I don’t feel it is our responsibility to provide brick and mortar for the community college, and in particular, when we are expected to make a 20-year commitment and they make a 10-year commitment, and in particular when ours represents all fixed expense, and theirs to a greater degree represents variable expense.

• If this proposal were to pass, what portion of the tuition paid by out of district students would be required to go toward debt service on the bond?

• Supporters indicate the passing of the bond issue would increase property tax approximately 10 percent on an acre of ag land. That translates to an increase in the breakeven point for any crop produced on that land for the next 20 years.

Corn and bean production has struggled to make the breakeven point the last several years, with this year holding the same prospect at this point.

I can’t envision any tax worthy of a 10 percent increase, but in particular one imposed on the district’s largest enterprise. Increasing property tax on other properties and in particular homes is of equal concern, in particular for young homeowners and those on fixed incomes.

The current inflation rate is approximately 2.2 percent, and proponents are proposing a 10 percent increase in taxes? Are any of us anticipating a 10 percent increase in our property values soon?

• Are the Greene County supervisors and Grow Greene County willing and able to pledge $9,500,000 to the Paton-Churdan School District?

• This community recently committed to a $20,000,000 hospital project, predominantly financed with debt. The city of Jefferson has committed to a six-figure expenditure for airport expansion so they can facilitate planes with up to a 72-foot wingspan, $1,400,000 on the overpass, etc.

Who is keeping the community balance sheet?

Each project comes with its supporters offering rational and rationalization. How many dollars and how much debt are needed in an effort to buy prosperity?

• Follow the money.

I haven’t experienced such a persistent and intense effort to mold my thinking since having gone through basic training after being drafted into the Army.

Billboards, professionally produced videos, web pages, yard signs, full page ads and slick mailers. I have to admire the effort, but I fear there is a lot of self-serving institutional money funding the full court press.

• The March 22 edition of this paper references a “correction” on Page 2, in the upper left- hand corner. The correction is in reference to a front-page article from the prior week, indicating that the school would be buying 80 acres of land, a major correction to a front- page article, with the correction on the second page, about as inconspicuous as it could be made.

• The school district already owns 41.72 acres at the present high school location, and the footprint of the proposed career academy is 20,000 square feet. The career academy would represent a hair over 1 percent of the present high school site.

Surely, one could find room on already owned land to accommodate the new facility.

How do we justify owning another 80 acres along with the multiple sites already owned?

We wouldn’t need 80 acres to build the proposed buildings. Could it be that this is part of a veiled agenda to build the sport complex that some have sought for some time? If that were to be the case, this would require more money beyond the current proposal. The more sites involved, the more operational expense the district incurs on an ongoing basis.

Education has been good to my family.

My wife is an R.N., I have a master’s degree in business administration with an enfaces in finance and we have three children, all with graduate degrees. I am all for educational opportunities in all forms.

I am also for being financially responsible.

Let’s realize full benefit from the resources we already have, incorporate some of the good offerings in this present bond proposal, but move forward with a proposal that makes less debt as a part of the future we offer our kids.

Thanks for your consideration.

Paul M. Quam
Jefferson

Committee responds to Quam

In his recent letter to the editor, Paul Quam listed several points of concern with the school bond plan. We appreciate Mr. Quam’s willingness to bring these concerns forward, and we would like to address each of them to provide further clarification for voters:

• Waukee vs. Greene County bond

The $/student comparison used by Mr. Quam fails to recognize that the Waukee bond was for a second high school that would only impact half of their students.

Also, it appears that Mr. Quam’s enrollment numbers were slightly off, also impacting his comparison. Using the Iowa Department of Education numbers for 2017-18, Waukee serves 10,321 students and Greene County serves 1,190.

Link for enrollment numbers:

https://www.educateiowa.gov/documents/school-district-certified-enrollme...

If we are to use Mr. Quam’s method, it should be based on the number of students impacted by the project. That works out to $22,672/student in Waukee and $18,050/student in Greene County.

That is before considering that Paton-Churdan sends their students to the Greene County High School, accounting for an additional 210 students and dropping the Greene County $/student down to $15,343 — 32 percent less than what Waukee is paying.

Comparing projects from a taxation perspective, Waukee is taxing their residents at $4.05/$1,000. Greene County has not had a school bond tax levy for the last several years. This bond would create a tax levy of $2.70/$1,000 — 33 percent less than what Waukee has been paying and will continue to pay for the next 20 years.

The total project in Greene County also includes a career academy and modifications to the existing high school. Waukee’s project is only a single high school.

• Iowa Report Card rating

Our elementary school received a rating of “Exceptional,” placing it in the top 2 percent of all schools in the state. Both the middle school and high school received ratings of “Acceptable.” This does not indicate that they are underperforming — it indicates that performance is just that, acceptable. Forty-six percent of all middle school and high schools in the state received a rating of “Acceptable.”

Ratings available here: http://reports.educateiowa.gov/schoolreportcard/home/index/~

• Mr. Quam points out that the turnout of citizens within a nine-county area of the state for the Iowa Central bond referendum in February was low.

Voter turnout does not reflect the commitment of Iowa Central to this project. Iowa Central’s board of directors passed a unanimous resolution supporting this project in Greene County.

• As previously discussed, Iowa Central will not construct a facility on the border with a neighboring community college. The only way to get the career academy in Greene County was to create this partnership with Iowa Central.

The costs of constructing the career academy are being covered by the Greene County board of supervisors through their use of the TIF program, which will utilize the future revenue from wind turbines to pay off the debt for construction.

Iowa Central is covering all of the costs associated with equipment and educators. It is also signing a long-term lease that will cover all operational costs of the facility.

In summary, the construction costs have been covered by the board of supervisors, and the operational costs are covered by Iowa Central.

That lease is set for 10 years because the high schools participating in the regional academy sign 10-year leases for students to attend the academy. The lease will be renewable, and it is fully expected that Iowa Central will be in the community for much longer than the 20-year bond payback window.

• High school students (in-district or out-of-district) will not have to pay to attend the career academy.

The school districts will pass along a portion of their district cost per pupil (roughly ⅓ of the $6,600/student that districts receive) to Iowa Central for each student attending the career academy. See the previous point for explanation of funding for the career academy’s construction and operation.

• Regarding the agricultural tax increase, farmers will see an average increase in property tax of $2.78/acre.

Property tax is just one component of agricultural production costs. According to Iowa State University, average total costs per acre for corn production in 2018 are $694/acre. This project represents an increase of 0.4 percent for the total cost of production. In a field that yields 200 bushel per acre (Greene County average last year was 202 bu/acre), the cost of this bond is 1.4 cents/bushel.

As with any tax, this is an investment, and as some recent letters of support have shown, this can result in a significant investment for farmers. This committee appreciates the many farmers who have expressed their willingness to make this investment.

Mr. Quam is correct that we are in a down-cycle for agriculture. But agriculture, like all businesses, goes through cycles. This project is one that will extend through many cycles within agriculture and business in general.

We believe that this decision must be made by looking at the impact beyond just a single year’s balance sheet. We believe waiting for the “right time” would result in missing out on the present opportunity.

• Both the Greene County supervisors and Grow Greene County board have stated that one of the reasons they support this project is because it does impact all high school students in the county.

• We cannot speak to these other projects, but we certainly think this project has gone above and beyond to find alternative revenue sources to keep taxpayers’ costs to a minimum (the bond only represents 60 percent of total project costs).

We hope that any concerns citizens have about these other community projects would not impact the decision of whether to move on this opportunity.

• The Our Kids, Our Future campaign has been fully financed by community donations.

The professional manner in which it has been run should be seen as a testament to this community and to the members of the campaign who are so passionate about our kids’ education.

• An analysis was conducted to determine whether the existing high school site would support the scope of this project (the scope includes a new high school, a new competition gym and associated parking, and the career academy). It was determined that the existing site would not be sufficient for this complete scope and additional land would have to be acquired.

The costs of acquiring land south of the existing high school and modifying that land were compared with the costs of the proposed location and were determined to be similar. Without a financial reason to complete this project at the current high school location, the other factors in consideration led to the choice of building on a new site (easier access for regional academy, greater visibility, greater flexibility for future projects, etc.)

This project does not include a sports complex.

It does provide enough area that would allow for a centralized location of all district athletic facilities, if that is determined to be of interest at a future date.

In the meantime, the additional land could be either rented to farmers to create income for the district or used for another educational purpose. One such idea has been to allow the district’s FFA chapter to manage the land.

Our Kids, Our Future-Greene County committee

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Everything in plan is necessary
As I picked up this past week’s paper, I was thrilled to see all of the encouraging words from so many people, people who see the future with excitement and eyes open.

For starters, let’s see:

Greene County Schools are about to receive a $35.48 million capital improvement with a debt obligation of $21.48 million. My math tells me that the real cost to the taxpayer will be 60 percent of the total cost.

For that $21.48 million, the people of Greene County get:

• New high school, a competitive gym and a performing arts center.

• A new regional center/career academy.

• A remodel of the current high school to accommodate middle schoolers.

Everyone has heard the discussion around the first two topics, new high school and the regional center/career academy. I want to address the middle school move to the remodeled high school.

The middle school building is nearly 100 years old; the classrooms are too small to utilize modern teaching technology; heating and cooling is inadequate; to secure the building, with multiple entrances, is nearly impossible; three flights of stairs make it problematic for special needs young people; there is no lunchroom, tables set up in the gym for lunch.

I attended high school in this building 60 years ago and many of these same issues were present even then.

Absolutely everything contained within this proposed bond is necessary.

People of Greene County:   Voting Yes on April 3 will set the stage for so many great possibilities, both now and in the future.

Set your priority on our kids and our future, the future of all of Greene County.   

Vote Yes.

Bruce Liljegren
Jefferson

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For students, environment matters
Does a student get smarter or more intelligent because of a new school?

There is lot of debate on Facebook on this topic, and I love to debate ... so here it goes.  

Does the NASCAR driver become smarter with a new car? Does the IT specialist become smarter with a new computer in hand? Does the farmer become smarter from the benefit of a new tractor? A photographer with a new and upgraded camera? An executive in a new office?

Do professionals become inherently better at their jobs with better equipment?

Yes.

How can you argue that a faster/safer car, planting 20 rows vs. 12, increased dpi on a camera, etc., don’t make the professional in question capable of doing their job BETTER?

Now, if you’re paying attention, I have yet to address the question of do these proposed changes make the professional in question smarter or more intelligent?

This is the question everyone disputes.

The answer, while more complex, is yes it should.

The reason this can’t be a solid yes is that effort comes into play. Just as in any workplace, effort is a determining factor in success. The difference is we can’t fire a student for putting forth zero effort; that is unfortunately a societal issue, requiring some effort and accountability from parents/caregivers.

The last sentence is worth reading twice.  

Naysayers, stick with me on this, there may be some insight forthcoming. Modern equipment and a better environment allows for people to become smarter and more intelligent.

That statement is inherently true.

However, this change does not happen overnight, and some dedicated underachievers may never reap the benefits due to no fault but their own. This improvement is a cumulative result of working with equipment that allows for a better end result or accomplishment in school or a workplace. A better product. A better grade. They are the same thing.

A better building/office and environment are the factors students/employees consciously or subconsciously use to determine how much they feel valued by their employer or in the case of the student, their community.

Still don’t believe me?

Have you ever thrown a birthday party? Have you ever hosted a graduation party? Barbecue?

Did you clean up, or buy banners, balloons, etc.?

Why?

Because we all know environment matters. You want little Joey to remember his birthday and feel happy and comfortable in his surroundings. You want to impress the neighbors at your barbecue, and so on.

There is a reason Google has adult playgrounds, nap areas, etc., for employees. Adult employees. Why is it so hard to reason that things globally accepted in the workplace don’t apply to education?

If you are still vehemently opposed and disagree, I ask you this question: What does your workplace look like? What did your school look like?

Are you a byproduct of a broken workplace or system that doesn’t/didn’t value you?

Are you simply perpetuating that mentality?

Do you want better?

Think about it.
 
Bryce Martin
Grand Junction

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Citizens recognize critical importance of plan
Last November, I wrote a letter to the editor in support of the proposed school bond issue titled “Opportunity Knocks! Do We Hear It?”

Wow! It appears that we heard it loud and clear.  

There is no doubt that Greene County citizens recognize the critical importance of this opportunity for the future growth of our county. We need to give a big thank you to Chris Deal for his foresight in initiating the great idea of a career academy for our county.

So let’s send a strong positive message that we want to continue to build a high quality standard of living for Greene County by voting Yes for the school bond on April 3.

David F. John
Jefferson

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Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161