Iowa City school board may repeal policy on high school funding

Policy adopted in 2007 sets aside $3.2 million annually in sales tax for new high school

Following this month's approval of a plan that opens up $100 million to the Iowa City school district, the school board next week will discuss a policy that reserves money for a new high school.

What exactly will be talked about is unclear, but some school board members expect it to be about repealing the policy.

At issue is a requirement that $3.2 million of sales tax revenue be saved annually for 10 years to go toward construction of a new high school. That policy was adopted by the school board in 2007 after voters approved a school infrastructure local-option sales tax, or SILO.

Last fall, a majority of school board members – most of them elected after that policy was approved – indicated they wanted to instead use the money on elementary school projects that they considered a more pressing need in the growing district.

The issue was set aside after the school board called for a special election to adopt a new revenue purpose statement, or RPS, dictating how the sales tax money is spent. Voters this month approved a new RPS, which will allow the district to borrow ahead on up to $100 million in future sales tax money to use on construction projects.

With a new high school being part of the district's plan for that money, the successful RPS vote could raise the question of whether the SILO-era policy should stay on the books.

School board member Tuyet Dorau said she expects the board at its meeting Tuesday to discuss getting rid of the policy. She opposed such a move last fall but said this week that she is undecided on what to do now.

“Part of me is opposed to it because it’s an olive branch that we can keep to the north corridor,” she said of the northern part of the school district. “Then the other part of me says, financially, we are not making any money off of saving those dollars, so we can use those dollars now as opposed to borrowing against the RPS.”

She said a compromise might be to keep the policy until land for a high school is acquired, and then repeal it.

Board member Karla Cook, who last fall was in favor of putting the high school money toward other projects, said Friday that she thought it made better financial sense to spend those funds on immediate needs. The money is earning a lower interest rate in the bank than the district would pay to borrow money.

Cook noted that district officials have said land for new elementary schools and a high school may be among the first purchases made with the RPS money, and she said that would be a sign of good faith to those parents who want a new high school.

“I think that should tell the people that we’re serious about addressing their needs,” she said.

Parents in the northern part of the district have for several years called for a new school because of overcrowding at West High and the distance to that school from their homes.  Others say high school students can be shifted to under-capacity City High and worry that opening a new school will draw resources away from the existing high schools.

A tentative plan the district created for the RPS campaign calls for a new high school to open in fall 2020. Three new elementary schools, building additions and renovations also are on the list and are ahead of the high school in terms of construction dates.

Superintendent Stephen Murley said the district has identified potential sites for schools and officials are currently in the appraisal process to see what the properties are worth.

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