This frugal taxpayer supports the school bond issue

RileyOnlineThirty years from now as my children discuss what to have inscribed on my tombstone, one of them may well suggest “You can only spend each dollar one time,” to be put in small letters as a tagline at the bottom of a small tombstone.

“You can only spend each dollar one time” is my budgeting mantra.

That’s why I support the Greene County Community School District’s proposed $20 million bond issue. I believe the efficiencies made possible by the project will free up money that can be spent on more educational purposes.

The board projects savings of $361,780 per year by using only two locations rather than the current five. The savings breaks down like this: $66,780 in busing (including wages, fuel, maintenance); $110,000 in administration; $70,000 in teachers/counselors; $75,000 in custodians’ wages; and $40,000 in food service wages.

That savings does not include the eventual savings of geothermal heating/cooling at the 5-12 campus, nor the savings of not heating the two vintage buildings in the district. According to superintendent Tim Christensen, utilities last year were $40,135 at the intermediate school in Grand Junction and $47,621 at the middle school in Jefferson. Of that, about $9,700 was water and sewer. Assuming water usage will remain about the same no matter where students and teachers do their business, that still leaves about $79,000 in savings.

Adding to the size of the current high school won’t add $79,000 to the heating/cooling cost. It’s easy to estimate savings of more than $400,000 per year. Every year.

Put that $400,000 into highly trained dedicated teachers using up-to-date technology and current best practices and you’ve got the ingredients of a first class school district.

My tight-fisted attitude about money does not rule out the new competition gym that’s part of the proposal. The gym at the middle school was built in 1952. It has been maintained well, but it is outdated by at least one generation and no matter how loved it is, no matter how many cherished memories folks have of events there, it will not last forever. It is more efficient to swallow hard now and build a new gym as part of the 5-12 campus project than to do it 15 or 20 years from now.

The question isn’t about adding the capability of hosting tournaments or how we compare to other districts. It’s about addressing a need (perhaps a future need) in the most economical way possible.

Because I know I can spend each dollar only one time, I’ve considered the impact the proposal would have on my tax bill. The owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would see an increase of about $12.38 a month. Even with my frugality, I probably spend $12.38 a month on something less important than educating children. (Note: I no longer have children attending school here. Like many people, I am paying to educate other people’s children. That doesn’t bother me a bit. It’s my turn. It’s my duty.)

I’ve heard concerns about an increased property tax levy from people who own farmland. Farmland is taxed according to its productivity, not its market value. The school estimates an increase of about $2.55 per acre of farmland.

I’m a city girl, so I asked Mrs Google how much a farmer makes per acre of cropland. She directed me to the ISU Extension & Outreach website. I used information there that showed an estimated yield of 160 bu/acre for corn and 48 bu/acre of soybeans, and an estimated cost per acre for inputs ($374 for corn, $182 for beans). I used market prices of $3.35 for corn and $9 for beans.

My city girl calculation shows “profit” per acre of $162 for corn and $250 for beans.* The increase in tax per acre is less than 2 percent. Yes, I know there are other expenses producers need to cover. There are other expenses urban property owners cover from their income, too. The point is, the proposed bond issue won’t cost anyone an exorbitant amount of money.

I know there is angst about the future of the Grand Junction building (built in 1915) and the middle school (built in 1921). It would be great if those buildings could be repurposed. But, rural America started down the road to centralized attendance centers when townships began closing and consolidating their one-room schools. The proposal for all students to attend class in Jefferson is the next step.

Voters point to the work done on the Grand Junction building a few years ago, saying the money would be wasted if that building were closed.

I have great respect for the former East Greene board of education. My analogy: they were driving a car with 275,000 miles on it that needed new tires. They did not purchase top of the line tires with a 100,000 mile guarantee. They purchased the least expensive tires they could to get the car safely to the time when rust and mileage would finally win and the car was parted out. The funds were local option sales and service tax (LOSST) and physical plant and equipment levy (PPEL) funds. The board was limited in how it could use the money. The board’s use of the money in that way was not frivolous or unnecessary, and there was no promise it would guarantee viability of the structure for decades.

Several people have told me they’re voting against this first proposal because they think a second proposal would be better.  They’re waiting for a pared down version. There are few voters who have attended more school board meetings in the past two years than I. I don’t sense that the board has in any way padded this proposal. I’ve been in more recently built schools and more recently built gyms than ours. I think the proposed project is already on the modest end of the scale.

I support the $20 million bond issue because in the long term it would allow the school to spend fewer of my dollars on buildings and buses and cafeterias and cooks, and more of them on education, and that’s what school is all about.

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