Enrollment in Linn-Mar Community School District has increased by more than 15 percent over the last five years, standing this fall at 7,429 students. If current trends hold, enrollment will top 8,000 by 2021, a 31 percent jump since 2005.
Most Iowa school districts would envy those numbers, spawned mainly by the growth in Marion and other communities served by the district. But with that growth comes big challenges.
Linn-Mar’s two middle schools are approaching capacity. Its older elementary schools, also filling with students, are in need of updates. Soon, the district’s growth will present the need for an eighth, larger elementary school.
Linn-Mar did its homework during a restructuring process earlier this year and has a plan, an $80 million bond measure that would pay for several building projects. We support the plan, and urge district voters to approve it on Sept. 12.
The money would pay for two new 800-student intermediate schools for fifth and sixth-graders, one near Echo Hill Elementary and the other on district-owned land at 35th Avenue and 44th Street. Three older elementaries — Bowman Woods, Indian Creek and Wilkins — would undergo a series of needed repairs to roofs and other areas. Excelsior Middle School also would undergo repairs and upgrades.
A new elementary school is planned, also on land near in the vicinity of 35th Avenue and 44th Street.
Without the bond proceeds, Linn-Mar faces the prospect of crowded schools augmented by temporary classrooms and other stopgap measures. With the proceeds, grade restructuring made possible by intermediate schools will relieve enrollment pressure on the district’s middle and elementary schools.
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Make no mistake, it’s a big ask for taxpayers. The $1.65 per $1,000 of taxable property valuation would raise taxes on a $200,000 home by $14.99 monthly. It boosts the district’s overall levy to $19.02, the area’s highest. But that’s still lower than a spike in Linn-Mar’s levy rate in 2008-11, which topped out at $20.40.
Our support comes with a set of expectations.
We expect Linn-Mar leaders to consider reducing the plan’s debt load and its tax burden if state lawmakers move to extend a one-cent state sales tax for school building projects now set to expire in 2029.
We expect Linn-Mar to be inclusive and transparent as it moves toward construction of a new elementary school, which could mean the closing/repurposing of one of its older elementary schools, Indian Creek, Bowman Woods or Wilkins. District officials insist no decisions have been made, and repurposing may not be necessary, but the public must be given ample time to weigh in before any final decision.
And we expect a district asking for community tax dollars to consider ways its new facilities my be accessed and used by the public. New schools could be designed to include dual-use spaces benefiting students and members of the community.
We’ll be watching to see of our expectations are met. In the meantime, school leaders have put forth a solid, specific plan to address the facilities needs of a growing school district. It deserves voters’ support.
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