A vote for bond and future workforce

A Walking School Bus driver travels with students along Zeller Street in route to Garner Elementary School in North Liberty. (Brian Ray/ The Gazette)
A Walking School Bus driver travels with students along Zeller Street in route to Garner Elementary School in North Liberty. (Brian Ray/ The Gazette)

The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce was one of the first organizations to sign on to formally support the passage of the Iowa City Community School District’s General Obligation Bond on Sept. 12. We’d like to explain why.

The mission of the chamber is to foster a supportive environment for local businesses. Key to achieving that mission is a strong, capable workforce. Our schools are the backbone for preparing today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow.

We support completing necessary infrastructure projects for two reasons:

1. A stronger school infrastructure leads to improved educational outcomes. An August 2016 study in the Economics of Education Review found that capital investments in schools can lead to consistent growth in student achievement. By contrast, having schools that are not air-conditioned, not properly secured and are over capacity directly hurts our children’s ability to learn.

2. Strong schools that look and feel like strong schools are extremely important for attracting people to our area. We are one of the fastest-growing counties in Iowa, and the state’s fifth-largest school district. If we intend to sustain that growth while providing high-quality education, we must be pro-active and build for the future. Before deciding to relocate here, businesses and people take a close look at local schools. Not only is it a major factor, it’s often the deciding factor.

Many employers in our area cite recruiting and retaining talent as their number one challenge. A survey conducted last year by our partner, the Iowa City Area Development Group, identified that area employers currently have 471 unfilled positions and are projecting to hire at least 2,023 more in the next three years. Not being able to fill these jobs will be a major problem if our area wants to continue to grow.

A yes vote for the bond means taking active steps to ensure our school district can prepare students for these jobs while also attracting people to move here.

We all need to invest in local schools, whether or not we are parents. We write this Op-Ed as two women who don’t have children. Investing in schools is something that will benefit everyone who lives in this community. It is about continuing to strengthen the wonderful quality of life we have here for adults and kids alike.

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It is urgent that we do this now. If we wait, construction costs will continue to rise, we will pay more, and we will continue to fall behind. Furthermore, we simply can’t rely on government funding. This past year, the state declined to extend the SAVE penny sales tax that made it possible to complete the first half of the Facilities Master Plan.

Passing this bond provides a unique opportunity for our community to come together as one voice to support public education and our future workforce. On behalf of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, we urge you to vote yes for the school district’s bond Sept. 12.

• Kim Casko is president & CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce. Shari DeMaris is chamber board president and senior vice president/chief financial officer of Hills Bank and Trust Co.

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