Iowa City group launches campaign to support $191.5 million school bond

One school board member still not convinced, will vote no

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CORALVILLE — Meg Moreland, a 17-year-old student at West High School in Iowa City, has missed more school days this year because of excessive heat than snow.

During hotter months, she said her teachers press towels against aging windows in an effort to keep warm air out of the classroom.

“I’ve watched classmates feel sick because of the heat,” Moreland said. “And I myself have had to leave class because I was feeling faint.”

Moreland is one of many who attended a pro-school bond campaign event Tuesday and urged voters in the Iowa City Community School District to approve a $191.5 million bond. The school bond, which is one of the largest sums put to voters in the state, would fund the second half of the district’s 10-year master facility plan.

According to the All for One: One Community, One Bond campaign and the school district, the remaining 20 projects in the plan would impact every school in the district — including West High, which would receive a geothermal heating and cooling system and new windows.

If the bond passes by receiving more than 60 percent of the vote on Sept. 12, the school district’s total tax rate would rise to an estimated $14.96 from $13.98. The owner of a $100,000 property would see an estimated tax increase of about $51 per year, or about $4.25 per month, officials said.

“Of the 10 largest school districts in Iowa, we have the lowest property tax,” said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who attended Tuesday’s event at the Coralville Public Library. “If this passes, the (general obligation) bond issue, we’d still be the lowest.”

The Iowa City school district — which includes Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Hills and University Heights — has used funds from the state penny sales tax for school infrastructure to fund the first half of the projects in the facilities master plan.

The Iowa City school district hasn’t had a bond since 2003. That bond, for $39 million, was approved with 71 percent voting in favor, according to the Johnson County Auditor’s Office.

Dvorsky said school districts shouldn’t rely on the penny tax, also known as the SAVE tax, for funds. It wasn’t extended past 2029 this legislative session, and he said an extension “probably won’t happen.”

“Public education is just not viewed as the top priority in Des Moines or in D.C.,” he said. “So, unfortunately, we only have one alternative — that’s for the community to come together and get this done.”

While the bond is being put to voters to decide, at least one member of the Iowa City school board said he will be voting against it. In January, the school board considered splitting the bond into separate pieces, but ultimately — in a 5-2 vote — decided to send the bond to voters in a single piece.

Chris Liebig and Phil Hemingway voted against the move then. Hemingway could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Liebig said Tuesday he plans to vote against the bond.

“I’m a ‘no’ voter,” Liebig said. “To me, it’s just not smart to commit the district to capacity expansions six or seven years in advance when we don’t have the data showing we’ll have the enrollment.”

The about 14,000-student district has grown by about 2,000 students since 2010, according to district data. The district has projected it will grow by another 2,000 students in the next decade.

Liebig said he thinks the district should invest in projects with immediate need — such as air systems and accessibility updates — but wait on projects that would address future capacity needs.

“A no vote to me says come back with a better plan in six months,” Liebig said. “I don’t want to stop this plan completely.”

At the campaign launch event, Superintendent Steve Murley said a defeat of the bond would set the district’s facility plan back years. That, he said, would “be a horrendous setback for our kids.”

Nick Bergus, an organizer of the pro-bond campaign and a district parent, said he worries the district’s facilities will fall further behind if the bond doesn’t pass.

“My fear is that our kids are going to be stuck in poor conditions,” Bergus said. “We’re going to continue to have days of school canceled from heat, we’re going to continue to have these windows that leak, we’re going to continue to have (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility issues and security issues.

“We’ve got a plan to fix it, and we just need to follow through,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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