My Thoughts on New Elementary Schools

As I have repeatedly stated publicly and have previously posted in this blog under the “A Comparison of the Candidates” posting, I am in favor of two new eastside elementary schools.  I believe that the best choice for the first of these schools is the American Legion/Windsor Ridge site as it will allow the district to serve a broader student base than the South Sycamore location and will not create the pressure to close Hills Elementary that would be the inevitable result of building at the South Sycamore location.

I also believe that the best way to assure the building of a Windsor Ridge area elementary school is to make the building of a new high school a very high priority.  If we do not promptly build both a new high school and the Windsor Ridge area elementary and instead proceed with additions to West and City there is likely not going to be enough money to build the Windsor Ridge school without a bond issue, which I continue to believe will be difficult to obtain.

I think that the best way to alleviate the space needs at our high schools is by building a new high school and not with additions at this time to City and West.  And by prioritizing our spending in this manner we have enough resources to build the Windsor Ridge area elementary that we need.  I am concerned that some in our community prefer an addition to City over needed elementary schools.

And, in the interest of fair disclosure, I have two children who attend City High.

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Financial Support

I would like to thank the many people who have offered financial support towards my campaign.  However, I am running for school board because of my personal belief that our district deserves improvement.  And therefore I have decided to “put my money where my mouth is” and not accept any financial contributions.  But I certainly value your encouragement, your kind words about me to your friends, neighbors and colleagues, and, of course, your vote.

Thank you for your support.

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More Thoughts About A New High School

I wrote earlier about how important timing is in the construction of another high school. I was concerned that a new high school is nowhere near a sure thing, as the district may choose to spend money on other projects which will leave a new high school unaffordable without the passage of a bond issue. And I believe that the lack of confidence that the community has in the board makes a bond issue unlikely to pass.

Recent developments appear to indicate that my fears may be coming true. In an article published August 28, 2013 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette,  Superintendant Murley is quoted as saying that the district “. . . will need to ask for more money from voters through bond issues in a few years . . .”

No explanation is given as to why Mr. Murley and the board feel it appropriate to begin the push for bond issues instead of prudently using the more than $150 million which  the taxpayers have already provided to the board to satisfy the space needs of the district.

Therefore, it is even more important that supporters of a new high school vote for candidates that agree with their views. If you do not, the likelihood of another high school being built will decrease even more.

As I have clearly stated, I support a new high school because it is the most cost-efficient way to address capacity needs at both City and West Highs, will accommodate the ongoing growth which will continue in the northern part of our school district, and will help unite the district.  That is what I will work for if on the board.

I appreciate your support.

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Citizens for Neighborhood Schools & Save Hoover Groups

I was pleased to receive the endorsement of the Citizens for Neighborhood Schools & Save Hoover Groups along with Phil Hemmingway and Sara Barron.  Thank you for your support.

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A Comparison of the Candidates

As promised, I am writing with a hopefully objective comparison of the candidates on a particular issue.  This issue was addressed in a questionnaire prepared by the North Corridor Parents Group.  The full questionnaire responses are available at http://northcorridorparents.org/2013-iccsd-candidate-interviews.

The question asked was this:

  1.  The SILO/SAVE plan will not provide enough revenue for all the projects on the facilities plan.  How will you pay for them?

I’ll summarize and discuss the candidates’ views separately:

Jason Lewis.  Jason believes that we can “rebond” without raising taxes when our current bonds are repaid and that we have several other unspecified “funding streams” available to us for our construction needs.

The problem with this view, as I see it, is that we can’t get any additional money from bonds without a 60% favorable vote, which I don’t think that we can get.  And if we issue bonds we will need to raise taxes because we need more funds than can be obtained with a “rebond.”  And there aren’t any untapped other “funding streams” available.  Therefore, I would prefer to utilize the $150 million which we do have to meet our priority needs before considering a bond issue.

Chris Lynch.  Chris also recognizes that we would need a bond issue and mentions that we could issue bonds without raising taxes if we first repay our existing bonds.

As with Jason, I disagree–we cannot raise enough money from bonds without raising taxes, and I don’t think a bond issue could pass or that we should even consider a bond issue at this time.

Tuyet Dorau.  Tuyet suggests that we can reauthorize our SILO/SAVE sales tax levies to get needed construction money.

The problem with this view is that we have already committed our SILO/SAVE money through 2029 and I don’t want to wait until then to build our critical projects.  And we have to remember that in 2029 we will have another whole set of building needs.

Brian Kirschling   Brian believes that the economy will improve and that this will generate more sales tax for our construction needs.  He also believes that there are federal dollars available.

My view is that if there were any federal dollars available we would have already pursued them.  I do not know of any and I have never heard anyone else suggest that any such funds are available.  And I am not willing to gamble on more sales tax revenues being available in the future-that’s just too risky.

Sara Barron.  Sara and I largely agree on this one.  She emphasizes being “careful stewards,” but also thinks a bond issue would be needed.  Although I certainly agree with her on the need for stewardship, I’d take the issue one step further and avoid the bond issue until our crucial needs are first built with the money that we already have.

Phil Hemingway.  Phil recognizes that there is a difference between “needs” and “wants” and that there is a need for fiscal responsibility.

Phil and I certainly agree on the need for fiscal responsibility.  Although he doesn’t specify his priorities, I suspect that he and I would largely agree on these as well.

Jim Tate Jim believes that a bond will be necessary and that since “. . . our administrative team has assured the current board that all the projects listed in the adopted plan is within the financial ability of the district, I have to adapt a wait and see outlook.”

I have to politely disagree with Jim.  I don’t have anywhere near the confidence that Jim has in the administration.  There’s been just too much misinformation for me to have the comfort level with the administration that Jim has.  And, as stated above, a bond is speculative.  I prefer something more concrete.

Karla Cook.  Karla believes that we will have more than $100 million for our construction projects and that this $100 million is only 60% of the money that we will receive.

I think that she is mostly correct –we have about $150 million to spend.  But the projects approved by Karla and the rest of the current board cost over $250 million and Karla doesn’t provide a solution to fill this $100 million gap.

So there you have it.  Many candidates assume that a bond will pass without difficulty, and some have funding plans that can only be described as speculative.

For the record, here’s what I would do to satisfy our immediate needs while at the same time avoiding the need for a bond issue:

Elementary Projects Capacity Added Cost in $M
Add to/renovate Longfellow 150 12.6
Add to/renovate Mann 180 12.9
Add to/renovate Penn 150 9.6
Construct New Eastside Elementary #1 500 14.5
Construct New Eastside Elementary #2 500 14.5

This increases our elementary capacity to 8,576 (103% of 2022 need) using the ICCSD capacity calculation contained in its audit or 7,992 (96.1% of 2022 need) using the BLDD capacity calculation. We know that the BLDD numbers are somewhat “soft,” as they rate Garner Elementary (recently built to accommodate 500 students) as a 445 student school.

Junior High Projects Capacity Added Cost in $M
Add to/renovate NCJH 180 6.3
Add to/renovate SEJH 60 10.9

This increases our junior high capacity to 2,446 (99% of 2022 need) using the BLDD calculation or 2,340 (95% of 2022 need) using the ICCSD calculation. (Note – it may make sense to build or to plan to build more than space for 60 additional students at SEJH to better address its capacity needs)

High School Projects Capacity Added Cost in $M
New High School 1500 65.3

This gives us high school capacity of 4,596, (100% of 2022 need) using the BLDD capacity calculation or 5062 (109% of 2022 need) using the ICCSD capacity calculation.

The new high school could be built with initial capacity of approximately 800-1000 and added to as the need arose. This would reduce initial construction costs.

In summary, the total cost of the above elementary, junior high, and high school projects is $146.6 million. This is within the amount of funds that we now have available. (RPS bond authority of $100 million, accumulated reserves for new high school of $19.5 million, anticipated unbonded/reserved SILO funds of $25 million, and a portion of the approximately $8 million yearly generated by PPEL) As you can see, our construction priority needs can be met without the need for a bond. Thank you for your support.

(The sources for the above information are: cost/increase in capacity numbers come from the facilities master plan committee materials prepared by BLDD; future projections for enrollment comes from “Enrollment Projections and Student Potential Analysis” prepared by De Jong-Richter Consultants and available on ICCSD website; ICCSD capacity calculations are filed with the ICCSD 2011-2012 annual audit prepared by the McGladry accounting firm and available on the State of Iowa Auditor’s office website; the amounts available to spend come from information e-mailed to me from the district.)

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My Thoughts On A New High School: Why Timing Matters

My thoughts are that we need a third (or fourth, when you count Tate) high school and that the site selected by the district for this new school is a reasonable one. Since the district has now finally committed to buying land for the new high school, some may think that my opinion on this issue doesn’t matter because a new high school is a “done deal.” But the voters need to understand that it is not a “done deal” and the prospects for the same remain very uncertain.

My view is that we should make the building of a third high school a highest priority. By doing so, we have the ability to resolve the serious over-crowding situation at West High and possible over-crowding at City High because the students which fill the new high school will be drawn from City and West.  And, if we build the third high school now, we avoid a situation where we have spent our limited money on less important projects and no longer have the financial means to build this new school.

The financial background is important.  The financial resources we have available to us for construction include revenue purpose bonds which are projected to provide approximately $100 million. And we have sales tax revenues which have not been committed to repaying the revenue purpose bond of approximately $25 million, although the date that these funds will be available is speculative. And we have approximately $20 million which has been set aside and earmarked for the building of a new high school. And we have PPEL monies (assuming this levy is approved for renewal by the voters September 10) of about $8 million yearly, although most of these PPEL funds have to go to repairs, etc. on other buildings. Assuming $1 or 2 million yearly from PPEL for the next five years, our available funds for construction total approximately $150 million.  

Despite this, the school board has recently approved a plan for constructing projects which cost in excess of $250 million dollars.  

A new 1500 student high school is estimated to cost approximately $65 million.  Or it could initially be built to a 1000 student capacity for a lesser amount, perhaps in the $50 million range.

So how are we planning to spend the $150 million that we have, and is there room in this available amount to build a new high school? We have purchased land for the building of two new elementary schools, which have a combined estimated cost of $29 million. And we have begun design work on a much needed renovation/expansion to Penn Elementary which costs approximately $9.5 million. And there are additions planned to the junior highs at a cost exceeding $25 million, to City High which costs $21.8 million, and to West High which costs $16.5 million, and to Mann and Longfellow elementaries which cost  $25 million. And there are many more projects which have been approved. But the estimated cost of just these listed projects is in excess of $125 million. Simply put, if we do these projects (or even most of them) and do not pass a bond issue, we won’t be able to afford to build a new high school because we would have much less than the $50 million it would take to build even a smaller new high school. And I think that we have little chance to pass a bond issue given the public’s lack of confidence in the current board and administration.

That is why timing is so crucial on this issue. If voters want a new high school they should insist that it be a top priority item with the board and that construction start immediately. And they should vote accordingly. Otherwise the money is going to be spent elsewhere and the new high school will not happen any time soon. And keep in mind that the above construction cost estimates are preliminary and have been provided by the district–actual construction costs may be much higher.

A group of north corridor parents recently requested that we candidates answer questions related to a new high school and other issues. The results have been posted and show a large difference in views among the candidates on this issue. I will try to expand on this in my next post.

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I look forward to hearing from and meeting with you.

I would very much like to hear what you think about the school district and what your thoughts and concerns are. This Saturday, August 24th, I will be at

1) The downtown Iowa City Farmer’s Market this Saturday morning; and

2) The North Liberty Community Library this Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Meeting Room C for a listening post.

You’re also welcome to contact me at my home phone of 319/354-2375 (Iowa City number) or my home email of mg9425@mchsi.com.

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