School district mil rates since 2010 per $1,000 assessed valuation
2010–11 2011–12 2012–13
Southwestern $8.29 $10.85 $8.37
Fennimore $8.02 $7.95 $8.94
Boscobel $8.93 $8.84 $9.59
Riverdale $9.82 $10.77 $10.97
IOWA–GRANT $9.80 $10.83 $11.01
Cuba City $10.75 $10.96 $11.17
Darlington $11.65 $11.21 $11.19
Platteville $11.11 $11.30 $11.26
Lancaster $11.04 $10.68 $11.32
Mineral Point $12.15 $12.15 $11.63
Dodgeville $11.51 $11.40 $11.68
Pecatonica $12.59 $12.09 $11.98
Highland $13.46 $16.71 $16.58
Iowa–Grant School District mil rates per $1,000 assessed valuation
2013–14 (projected if approved): $11.82
2014–15 (projected if approved): $11.00
2015–16 (projected if approved): $10.21
SOURCE: Iowa–Grant School District
A referendum on the April 2 election ballot will ask Iowa–Grant School District taxpayers to exceed the state-imposed revenue limits to maintain programs and support operational costs of the school district.
The referendum asks voters to approve $950,000 in additional dollars for each of the next three fiscal years, ending in 2016. The current referendum, which ends this coming June, approved $900,000 for three years.
Approval of the referendum would mean an increase of $81 in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000 on next year’s property tax bills, according to the school district. The mil rate would decrease below the current $11.01 per $1,000 assessed valuation in the second and third years of the referendum, resulting in an $80 decrease in property taxes over the three years of the proposal.
Because of state aids and revenue limits that have not kept pace with the increasing costs of educating students, Iowa–Grant is one of 44 school districts asking taxpayers for extra help by holding referenda. The 44 school districts include Cashton, De Soto and Wisconsin Heights.
Rather than for large expenses like property or capital projects, the requested funds are often for covering operational expenses such as keeping the school lights on and the doors open.
The climbing costs of transportation, utilities, personnel, and other fixed costs of school districts are in stark contrast with the state-imposed revenue limit, which was severely decreased in the 2011–13 state budget and remains flat in the original version of the 2013–15 state budget.
“Due to state cuts in educational funding in the 2011-12 budget year, Iowa–Grant lost about $450,000 and the following year we lost over $200,000,” said Superintendent Linda Erickson. Cutting the state budget in this way shifted more of the financial burden to local taxpayers who are faced with referenda to make up the difference.
“This does not allow the district to keep up,” said Erickson. “We have cut costs by reducing our size and economizing wherever possible. Several years ago we reached the point where we could not cut enough to match the revenue limit and still maintain a functioning, effective school district.
“Over the last 10 years we have reduced our employees by 31 people, made changes to insurance coverage and deductibles, reduced retirement provisions, and increased employee contributions to retirement and insurance. We have increased student fees, deferred needed maintenance projects, and delayed equipment and material replacement rotations. We are at the end of what we can trim without hurting kids.”
Erickson sees Iowa–Grant as an example of the problems of the state school finance system. “We are a part of the larger conversation that the state needs to have about the way schools are funded,” she said.
Erickson said Iowa–Grant, as a district that buses every student, has an annual bussing cost of $615 per student compared with the average cost of $475 for busing in the state. The $140 difference adds up to about $107,800 that Iowa–Grant spends on busing. Rural districts need state legislators to look at equalizing that transportation cost, she said.
Erickson would also like to see the system provide more managed educational costs for districts having more than the state average of students with disabilities or low income. Iowa–Grant Elementary/Middle School has 44 percent low-income students, more than the state average of 41 percent, and 18 percent Special Education students.
“Meeting the educational needs of those students is not inexpensive; it takes extra personnel,” she said. “Our goal is to provide quality education to all students. The current system does not take into account those students who need special services, and the state needs to figure out how to help districts in that regard.”
The school district is asking voters April 2 to approve an additional $50,000 more than the past referendum, due to the uncertain fiscal situation at the state level. If the state ratifies a budget that is favorable to schools and communities, Iowa–Grant may not have to levy the full amount approved through the referendum.
The tax impact of the referendum for owners of a $100,000 home would be a total increase of $81 for the first year of the referendum, to $11.82 per $1,000 assessed valuation. The mil rate would drop to the current $11 per $1,000 in 2014 and $10.21 in 2015.
Over the three years of the referendum, the net property tax decrease would be $80 for the owner of a $100,000 home. Higher home values would see a larger net decrease in tax liability over the three years, according to projections provided to the district by R.W. Baird & Co.
The school district lists these benefits from approval of the referendum:
• Maintenance of smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.
• Maintenance of music, physical education, foreign language, library–media, agriculture, technical education, guidance, special education programs and opportunities.
• Reading and math support at the middle school and Iowa–Grant High School.
• Extracurricular offerings for middle- and high school-students. (According to the school district, 90 percent of middle and high school students participate in extracurriculars.)
• Maintenance of textbooks and instructional materials.
• Continuing less crowded, shorter bus rides
• Continuing to build maintenance and improvements for 21st-century learning and investment in the future.
• Providing instructional technology for student learning.
• Improving building safety,
• Maintenance of instructional assistance for handicapped students.
Building improvements at Iowa–Grant High School that would be done by 2016 include:
• Improving space usage to enable 21st-century learning opportunities and technologies.
• Repurposing inaccessible sites (auditorium, weight room) for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Replacing the 50-year-old fire alarm system.
• Improving agriculture facilities.
• Replacing old surveillance cameras.
• Replacing the temperature control system.
• Providing an ADA-compliant performance area (the high school auditorium does not meet ADA standards).
• Remodeling bathrooms.
• Improving music facilities.
• Continuing asbestos removal.
• Updating wiring and lighting.
• Repairing roof leaks.
Improvements at IGEMS by 2016 include:
• Replacing middle-school classroom carpets with epoxy flooring.
• Replacing the temperature control system
• Replacing old surveillance cameras.
• Repairing roof leaks.
• Replacing the paging system.
“We believe that the programs and services currently provided are those that are necessary and that our communities value,” said Erickson. “If the referendum is successful, we will continue to seek savings where we reasonably can, and we may still need to make some reductions due to continued declining enrollment. We do, however, want to be able to maintain our teacher–student ratio in the early grades.”
If the referendum fails, everything would eventually be at risk of being compromised, reduced or eliminated, Erickson said.
“That means incurring short-term borrowing due to a diminished fund balance, deferring maintenance and repairs, increasing class size and eliminating valued programs and services,” she said. “We would make the best decisions we can under such circumstances, but educational quality would certainly suffer. If severe cuts are needed in our programs, we would likely be looking at losing many students through open enrollment to other districts. It is difficult to see how the district would be able to survive.
“We want people to know that we are so appreciative of the community’s past support of the school district. One thing that sets us apart from other school districts is the level of that support and the community involvement and community pride in this school. I want people to be able to hang onto that, and at the same time to move the district forward.
“Whether we like it or not, education is becoming a more and more competitive business. We need to make this district attractive to people who move in. We need to invest in the future of the district.”