Why I Support the Proposed School Bond

[Note: This post initially appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on July 27, 2017. Available at: http://www.press-citizen.com/story/opinion/contributors/guest-editorials/2017/07/27/mayor-throgmorton-why-support-school-bond-iowa-city-schools/515108001/ ]

The School District’s Facilities Master Plan (FMP) and proposed bond issue are not perfect. Both of them contain specific elements that any particular individual might reasonably dislike or oppose. When considered as a whole, however, and considering the extensive planning, public engagement, and negotiation that went into development of the FMP, the end result is a remarkable synthesis.

In what follows, I look at that remarkable synthesis as a taxpayer, resident of Iowa City’s North Side, parent of former students at Longfellow and Mann, mayor of Iowa City, and voter in School District elections.

For years, residents of Iowa City rightly complained that the District was using our dollars to fund new schools in nearby cities while failing to maintain and improve in our older schools or build any new ones. By adopting the FMP in 2013, however, the School Board explicitly recognized the importance of investing in Iowa City’s schools.

And it has followed through on that commitment. The School District estimates that the 10-year FMP will cost a total of $347 million. Roughly 54% of this total will have been directed toward our city’s schools if the bond referendum passes.

In the past 3 years alone, the District has invested roughly $76.9 million toward completing major additions and/or improvements at Twain, Lucas, Weber, Hoover, and City High; building two new elementary schools (Alexander and New Hoover); and making additions and upgrades at Longfellow and West.

If enough voters check “yes” on the bond referendum, the District will invest another $111.2 million in Iowa City schools. This will include: major renovations and/or additions at Mann, Lincoln, Shimek, Horn, Grant Wood, Alexander, and Lemme; an addition to Southeast Jr. High; a renovation at West High; and additions and upgrades to City and Tate High Schools.

In my judgment, completion of these planned investments is absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term viability of Iowa City’s older neighborhoods and to accommodate population growth in newer parts of the city.

Moreover, I think that very few of the planned investments will be made if at least 60% of the voters do not vote “yes” on the referendum. Much to our regret, we will find ourselves returning to the days of fighting over the District’s much more limited dollars.

Some opponents emphasize the magnitude of the bond issue. I agree that it won’t be trivial. The District estimates that paying off the bonds will require a property tax increase of 98 cents per $1,000 in assessed home valuation. But what this really means is that property taxpayers in Coralville, North Liberty, Iowa City, and other parts of the School District will be investing in our children, our schools, our neighborhoods, and our cities.

For Iowa City taxpayers, this increase in the School District’s property tax levy will be partially offset by a reduction in the City’s levy. When Iowa City’s Council adopted the City’s Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget, it reduced the City’s property tax levy rate by 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed value. Since FY 2012, this constitutes a $1.51 per $1,000 reduction in the City’s property tax levy.

I also recognize that some Iowa Citians (many of whom are good friends of mine) are dismayed that the FMP calls for closing Hoover Elementary without clearly indicating how that site would be used in the future. If the bond referendum passes, I would like to see District officials work with Hoover and City High neighbors to develop and refine 3 or 4 alternative plans for City High’s use of the Hoover site. The process could be modeled after the one that has recently been used to decide how to improve Mann Elementary. I would be eager to assist in this process.

For these and many other reasons, I will be voting an enthusiastic “yes” on September 12 for our students, for our schools, for our neighborhoods, for Iowa City, and for our School District.

Jim Throgmorton is Mayor of Iowa City. This column represents his personal opinions and not necessarily those of Iowa City government.

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