Staff Editorial

Linn-Mar's $55 million bond needed as buildings near capacity

The College/Career Center that is part of the South Commons at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The College/Career Center that is part of the South Commons at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Linn-Mar school officials, seeking to deal with growing enrollment that’s packing its elementary and middle schools, is asking voters on Sept. 11 to approve a $55 million bond issue. The money would pay for two new schools housing students in grades 5 and 6.

Moving fifth-graders to new schools would relieve capacity pressures in the district’s seven elementary schools. Moving sixth-graders to new schools helps with capacity issues at Linn-Mar’s two rapidly filling middle schools. The plan is a pared-down revision of an $80 million plan which failed to gain the 60-percent supermajority support needed for passage a year ago.

“We tried to simplify the bond this time around,” Superintendent Shannon Bisgard told our editorial board.

It’s a straightforward, responsible plan that addresses a clear need. It deserves voter support.

The bonded debt would raise Linn-Mar’s property tax levy by 65 cents per $1,000 in taxable valuation, resulting in a total levy of $18.02. For the owner of a home assessed at $200,000, the tax increase would amount to $69 yearly.

Last year, the idea of raising Linn-Mar’s levy to $19 caused considerable heartburn. Although 53 percent of voters supported the measure, it fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage. Among the 5,880 voters who cast ballots, more were over the age of 70 than were 39 and younger, Bisgard said.

At $18.02, under the new plan, Linn-Mar’s levy would be higher than Cedar Rapids’ $15.07 levy. But, according to Linn-Mar leaders, it would be comparable to other nearby districts, including Marion, $17.99, Lisbon, $18.50, Mount Vernon, $18.41 and Center Point-Urbana at $18.35. Unlike those districts, Linn-Mar does not charge its residents an income surtax on top of property taxes.

What Linn-Mar has in common with many of those districts is a reliance on residential property taxes. The Linn-Mar district has far less commercial and industrial property taxpayers than districts such as Cedar Rapids. Commercial property owners pay a higher tax rate than homeowners.

We understand reluctance to raise taxes. And the district concedes new schools likely will generate additional costs. But the capacity numbers are clear, and the alternatives are undesirable.

Linn-Mar’s current building capacity is around 8,150 students. Projected enrollment is set to surpass 8,000 students in 2022. Linn-Mar is welcoming its largest ever kindergarten class this fall.

Without the new fifth and sixth-grade schools, housing 800 students each, the temporary classrooms now installed at Indian Creek Elementary likely will be coming to other district buildings. Class sizes are creeping up in overstuffed elementary buildings that lack the space to add additional sections.

Because of the similarities between fifth and sixth grade students, socially and academically, it makes sense to educate them together. The new schools, at 44th Street and 35th Avenue and near the current Echo Hill Elementary, would be identical, saving design costs.

Linn-Mar is pairing its bond measure with a 10-year facilities plan that also includes a new elementary school and options for addressing high school capacity concerns. District officials hope future building needs will be addressed by a legislative effort to extend the SAVE sales tax for school infrastructure. A bill to do so failed last session, but the issue is likely to come up in 2019.

We see Linn-Mar’s approach as a reasonable strategy for dealing with its growth. We’d urge district residents with a stake in Linn-Mar’s future to get informed and vote. The district is holding an informational open house Aug. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Bowman Woods Elementary.

Early voting begins Monday at the Linn County Auditor’s Office, with a satellite voting station scheduled for Sept. 7 at Linn-Mar stadium for the first football game of the season.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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