Letter to the editor – Chris Deal for Our Kids, Our Future

To the editor,

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:

1. Waukee vs. Greene County Bond
a. 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.
b. Also, it appears that Mr. Quam’s enrollment numbers were slightly off, also impacting his comparison. Using the Iowa Department of Education numbers for 2017-2018, Waukee serves 10,321 students and Greene County serves 1,190.  Click here for enrollment numbers:
c. 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% less than what Waukee is paying
d. Comparing projects from a taxation perspective, Waukee is taxing their residents at $4.05/$1000. 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/$1000, 33 percent less than what Waukee has been paying and will continue to pay for the next 20 years.
e. 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.

2. Iowa Report Card Rating
a. 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.

3. Mr. Quam points out that the turnout of citizens within a 9-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 director’s passed a unanimous resolution supporting this project in Greene County.

4. 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 the 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.

5. 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 1/3 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.

6. 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 agricultural. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Chris Deal for the Our Kids, Our Future – Greene County committee

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