I’ve voted for every school bond proposed by the Iowa City School District since 1968. But the ballot language for those was clear, and the amount of money was reasonable — even if expensive. Not this time.
The ballot language to be voted upon for the $191.5 million bond issuance is tangled, setting no priorities, mentioning no specific projects, and making no enforceable commitments. The Facilities Master Plan that the bond is to fund is not part of the ballot language. The plan has been changed 39 times since it was first written in 2012 and ought to be changed again; its 2016 enrollment projections are already badly out of date. The district is growing and changing too quickly to make it sensible to plan anything long-term based on them.
The “Yes” campaign says voting “Yes” on the bond will “achieve equity” among district schools, but the current version of the Facilities Master Plan doesn’t do that. What about Tate High School (no upgrades until 2024, if at all)? And Hills Elementary? Hills gets nothing; is it next on the closure list? During the development of the plan, 74 percent of parents wanted to keep neighborhood schools open. Hoover is to be closed despite 2,300 citizens filing a petition to at least put its fate on the Sept. 12 ballot (that request was denied).
The real meaning of “achieving equity” appears to be fueling an arms race between City High’s building and grounds amenities and Liberty High’s. “Achieving equity” tripped the Iowa City City Council’s reflexes; it endorsed the bond.
“Jobs” and “be a Democrat” got bond endorsements from the Democratic Central Committee, the Iowa City Federation of Labor, and the Carpenters. The Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Realtors, and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades saw dollar signs and not only endorsed the bond but contributed thousands of dollars to the “Yes” campaign’s overflowing coffers ($88,000 by mid-July alone) resulting in its extensive, expensive, glossy, mass mailings.
The “Yes” campaign committee asserts misleadingly that the increase in taxes to pay for the bond will be $0.98/month for each $100,000 of taxable real estate. But the district’s own financial documents show the cost per month would be $8.46, or $101.58 per year, on every $100,000 of tax assessable value of property. The owner of a home with tax assessable value of $250,000 would pay $268.13 per year. The huge tax increase for apartment-building owners will surely be recovered by raising tenants’ rents. The interest on a bond totaling $191.5 million would add about $80 million to the cost of the bond — if taxpayers are lucky enough to get good rates — and the last repayment wouldn’t be made until 2039.
Renewal by the state Legislature of the one penny state sales tax dedicated to education (S.A.V.E.) probably will happen and would give the district as much as $440 million against which the district could borrow. A smaller bond with ballot language clearly defining essential projects to be done first could be approved in six months and used until the Legislature acts on S.A.V.E.
Vote NO on this bond. And vote for Laura Westemeyer, Karen Woltman, JP Claussen, and Charlie Eastham to put a new majority on the board that will have a chance to restore the board’s authority over the district’s management.
— Caroline Dieterle
Member of the Vote No Sept. 12 Committee
Daily Iowan Librarian 1977-2013