Education

Linn-Mar school board moves ahead with bond vote, as superintendent moves on

Board approves $55 million bond question language for September 11 ballot

A student walks past an entrance next to the 11/12 school office at the new South Commons and entrance at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa, home Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A student walks past an entrance next to the 11/12 school office at the new South Commons and entrance at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa, home Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — As the Linn-Mar Community School District’s superintendent prepares to leave the growing district, board members are set to again ask voters to finance the building of new schools.

During a Monday meeting, the Linn-Mar school board approved language that would put a $55 million bond question on a Sept. 11 ballot in the district.

The district estimates the bond would increase property tax rates in the district — which includes areas of Marion, northern Cedar Rapids, Robins and rural Linn County — to about $18.02 per $1,000 in assessed value. The Linn County Auditor’s Office could not yet confirm the increase’s effect on taxpayers.

The district’s rate this year is set at $17.38, which already is one of the higher property tax rates in the state.

The $55 million bond vote is expected to come a year after another bond, worth up to $80 million, was struck down by voters last September. That measure, which failed to garner a supermajority of votes with just 53 percent approval, would have funded new schools for fifth- and sixth-graders, as well as a new elementary school.

For outgoing Superintendent Quintin Shepherd, who is expected to leave for a superintendent position in Texas this summer, Linn-Mar’s lack of funding for its 10-year strategic plan is his biggest piece of unfinished business.

“It was tough to see us run a bond campaign and not be successful,” Shepherd, 40, said in an interview. “But we have done our due diligence, took a bunch of feedback, and come back with a request to the community that is much more responsible.”

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The $55 million bond would pay for two new intermediate schools, which would house fifth- and sixth-graders.

Some elementary and middle schools in the district already are at or near capacity, said Robert Schwarz, CEO of educational planning firm RSP and Associates, during a school board presentation. Growth is expected to further strain some buildings. Districtwide, buildings are at 91 percent capacity, Schwarz said.

The number of elementary and middle school-aged children especially is growing, and projections show the district won’t have capacity for its total number of middle-schoolers by fall 2020.

During his three years heading the Linn-Mar district, Shepherd said he’s been proud of the strategic plan he helped develop, which a bond measure would help toward completion.

“The 10-year strategic plan, it took the better part of a year getting that together,” Shepherd said. “It was a monumental effort on behalf of the board. I’m really proud of that.”

In addition to the district’s strategic plan, Shepherd highlighted Linn-Mar’s involvement with MEDCO Iowa’s Community Promise and with Iowa BIG, which is sponsored by The Gazette’s parent company.

Both programs put an emphasis on connecting students to workplaces and careers. Shepherd said he is proud to be a part of those activities, especially as large numbers of young people continue to move out of state.

Shepherd’s own departure hasn’t yet been finalized, but he expects to move to Texas this summer to work as superintendent of Victoria Independent School District.

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The Victoria district announced Shepherd was the sole finalist for superintendent in April.

“These decisions come, and it’s a combination of both professional and personal,” Shepherd said of his upcoming transition. “This was the one that caught my attention, and things came together in a hurry.”

Shepherd said he intends to work hard to achieve a “successful handoff” with his successor.

Linn-Mar spokesman Matthew May said Monday that person has not yet been selected by the board.

“We’ve done a lot of great work, and I’m proud of that, and there’s a lot of work yet to come,” Shepherd said. “There’s bright work ahead of the district.”

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

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