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Benton Community students deserve a quality education
Mar. 3, 2023 1:55 pm
As superintendent of the Benton Community Schools, I've traveled across our expansive district-over 342 square miles-visiting with people in eight communities and throughout our rural areas. There is a unifying belief that every child deserves a quality education. It is foundational to our free society and everyone's future success. What I heard time and time again fits our mission statement of a “Quality Education for a Lifetime of Learning.”
The vigorous debate is around how to fund modernized, thriving public education. The last time Benton Community passed a bond referendum was over 44 years ago, in 1979. That voter-approved general obligation bond set the foundation for decades of success for the rural school district now serving 1,700 students in our school district area.
On Tuesday, March 7, voters will decide the fate of a $48.5 million general obligation bond. In Iowa, these elections require a 60 percent supermajority of support to move forward. Voter-approved funding would include upgrades to Atkins Elementary School and the middle/high school, and construction of a new PK-6 elementary school building in Van Horne.
Property taxes fund the much-needed HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), electrical and safety renovations. Homeowners with a house tax assessed at $100,000 means an annual increase in total property taxes of $199.58 a year or $16.63 a month. An average acre of agricultural land in the Benton district increases approximately $6.02 per acre a year. (This may be further reduced slightly by other credits such as Family Farm Tax Credit, Cattle Facilities, etc.)
For the past several months, school board members and district leaders hosted 20-plus community information meetings. These sessions shared findings from the Benton Facilities Study Advisory Committee's yearlong study of facilities which included brainstorming and scoping work sessions, surveys and prioritization exercises.
A diverse group of 35 volunteers representing the viewpoints of community members, staff, and students participated. The group's findings were ultimately narrowed down to the proposed bond questions set for a March 7 vote.
Rebecca Andresen, Facilities Study Advisory Committee member and district parent, summed up the experience this way: "While doing the facility tours, it was obvious to us that changes needed to be made," she said. "The school has been making do and doing what they can with the resources they have, but I believe now is the time that we need to invest in our kids, in our future."
The message was clear: Something needs to be done. Facility improvements will set the foundation for the district to offer robust academic and extracurricular activities and rewarding experiences for students and staff.
If the bond issue fails, the district may need to use portable classroom spaces to accommodate student population. Other long-range improvements will likely be pushed further down the road. Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) and other funds may be diverted to repairing or replacing HVAC, electrical, and accessibility systems that are nearing or already past their useful life.
As we concluded the tour of town hall meetings, I am inspired by all community members who took time to participate and share their thoughts and ideas. People took time in their busy schedules to read our fact sheets, visit our website and attend presentations in the evening. This participation is a positive sign for our community's future.
Thank you to all the facilities committee volunteers, school board members, parents, teachers and interested citizens who got involved to make Benton Schools better for future generations. With debate about how to move forward, we are unified that every child deserves a quality education. Benton Community Schools will continue to strengthen local traditions and social networks, enhance student activities and make our communities more prosperous.
Dr. Pamela Ewell is superintendent of the Benton Community School District, a rural school district located in Eastern Iowa serving over 1,700 students across eight communities (Atkins, Blairstown, Elberon, Keystone, Newhall, Norway, Van Horne, and Watkins).
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