116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A community-led “vote yes” committee was “vital” in getting taxpayer approval for a $15.7 million general obligation bond in Anamosa to build a new competition gym for the school district, Anamosa school Superintendent Darren Hanna said.
“You would feel less positive about your project if there weren’t a group of people excited about it and willing to spend time promoting it,” he said.
The bond issue passed with almost 70 percent approval earlier this month.
Cedar Rapids leaders are beginning to express interest in rallying support for a “yes” vote on a $312 million general obligation bond referendum the Cedar Rapids school district plans to put before voters, perhaps in March.
The bonds would pay for a new middle school, a new aquatics center and for renovations and updates to the district’s middle schools and high schools.
School board President David Tominsky said Friday that the submission of Superintendent Noreen Bush’s resignation last week will not affect the Secondary Facilities Master Plan or plans to put the bond issue on the ballot next year.
“All initiatives are moving forward, and community input is being gathered for the board to review at our upcoming Oct. 24 working session,” he said.
Bush, who is on medical leave, is resigning at the end of the school year.
Bonds in Iowa
In Iowa, school bond issues — basically, loans that schools take out, typically for 10, 15 or 20 years — require a supermajority of 60 percent to pass. In passing bond issues, voters agree to repay the loan, with interest, through their property taxes.
School districts, by law, cannot take a position on bond referendums. They can provide the facts about a bond vote and ask residents to vote. But the promotion and advocacy for the proposals come from “vote yes” committees of residents.
In 2020-21, Iowa voters approved 10 of 12 school bond referendums, the most recent years that information is available through the Iowa Department of Education.
Cedar Rapids proposal
The $312 million general obligation bond referendum proposed in Cedar Rapids would be the largest school bond request to be put forward in the state.
The plan includes building a new middle school for 1,200 students and reducing the number of middle schools in the district from six to four. The bonds would pay for a new aquatic center, and for renovations, additions or new construction at district middle schools and high schools over the next seven to 10 years.
If the bond is approved, the district’s debt service property tax levy — which is currently zero — would become $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable valuation. The owner of a house in the Cedar Rapids school district assessed at $200,000, for example, would see a property tax increase of about $23 a month, or $280 a year, for 20 years, according to board documents.
The Cedar Rapids district has not put a bond issue on the ballot in more than 20 years. The new elementary schools and upgrades to existing elementaries is being paid for through a statewide school sales tax. That tax — called SAVE, for Secure an Advanced Vision for Educators — is allocated to school districts based on enrollment.
Cedar Rapids committee?
Community members have expressed interest in leading and being members of a “yes” campaign committee, Cedar Rapids schools director of operations Jon Galbraith said in an email to The Gazette.
“While the committee has not been officially formed, we are confident that once community-based committee chairs are solidified, they will provide an announcement that aligns with their timeline,” Galbraith said.
He did not name those community members.
Cedar Rapids voters last approved a bond issue for $46 million bond in 2000 to fund construction of Viola Gibson Elementary, which opened in 2002, and pay for infrastructure upgrades to other schools.
In that vote, in December 2000, 73 percent of voters in the school district approved the $46 million bond issue — the largest school referendum in state history at the time.
Former Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, now vice president of economic development at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, was chairman of the yes committee in 2000.
He said he talked with Cedar Rapids school officials earlier this month to provide a “historical view” for how support was built for the 2000 bond issue.
Corbett, who was CEO of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce in 2000, said the chamber “stepped up at the time to lead the bond issue.” It raised money to hire a campaign consultant, conducted polling in the community and “put together a good message” advertised on TV and radio.
“We got out the vote and ended up winning,” Corbett said.
Such an approach is “probably” similar to what needs to happen to pass a $312 million bond issue this time, he said.
Setting a bond election for March 7, which has been floated as a possibility, is a “pretty aggressive timeline” if no groundwork has been done to form a “vote yes” committee, Corbett said.
Associations like the economic alliance — the successor to the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce — might get involved in that effort because it is “trying to grow the community and make it more attractive for businesses to expand here and for workers to want to move into the school district,” Corbett said. “People don’t want to go into facilities that are crumbling or inadequate for the students.”
Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said in an email that he assumes “there will be significant community leadership and involvement in the campaign.” But, at this point, he said, “ I don’t yet know exactly what our role might be.”
State Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, who’s running for a Linn County supervisor seat this fall, was part of the Cedar Rapids schools 2000 yes committee.
“Our greatest asset in our community is our children, and their education has always been a priority of mine,” Running-Marquardt said. ”Our kids deserve facilities that are up to date where they can learn.“
2017 Iowa City bond
The Iowa City Community School District was successful in passing a $191 million bond in 2017 with 65 percent voter approval, thanks to the support of a yes committee.
Maka Pilcher-Hayek, now an Iowa City school board member who was part of the yes committee, said the committee started in her dining room. She said she and other community members spent about a year on the campaign.
Committee members met with residents in neighborhoods throughout Iowa City and went door-to-door to “probably thousands of homes to answer questions” about the bond and facility master plan it would fund, Pilcher-Hayek said.
“A lot of people donated their time and expertise,” Pilcher-Hayek said. “It was one of those experiences that really changed my life and gave me a positive outlook on what a community can do.”
Pilcher-Hayek, who once lived in Cedar Rapids, said she believes the community will vote for the Cedar Rapids bond issue.
“There is nothing more important to Iowa’s future than excellent public education,” she said. “There is no bigger indicator of success for our state than the quality of public education we provide.”
In other Eastern Iowa school districts, bond issues pass and sometimes fail.
Voters in the Linn-Mar Community School District approved a bond issue for $55 million in September 2018 to build two new intermediate schools, Hazel Point and Boulder Peak, which opened in September 2020.
In 2017, the district had proposed an $80 million bond, which failed.
In January 2006, more than 75 percent of district voters approved $27.5 million in bonds to build two new elementary schools — Linn Grove and Echo Hill — and to pay for renovations to the high school and Novak Elementary.
In March 2001, voters approved a $12 million bond issue to build Oak Ridge school. A former K-8 building, it is now the district’s second middle school.
Voters in the College Community School District have approved two bond issues in the past six years. No yes committees were formed to support those two proposals, according to a district spokesman.
In March 2020, 85 percent of district voters OK’d a $54 million bond issue to build a new intermediate school. Prairie Creek Intermediate was renovated to house ninth-grade students and Prairie Delta Alternative.
In February 2016, 68 percent of voters authorized a $49.5 million bond issue to add classrooms at Prairie High School, at Prairie Crest, Prairie Heights and Prairie View elementary schools and at Prairie Creek intermediate.
In April 2015, the $49.5 million bond issue had failed by 58 votes.
In January 2006, voters passed a $37.5 million bond issue to build a school for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students.
And in March 2001, College Community voters OK’d a $14.5 million bond issue to build Prairie Ridge Elementary School and pay for additions at Prairie Heights and Prairie View elementary schools.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; email@example.com