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Iowa City school board discusses funding for elementary school

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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In the midst of planning for the Iowa City Community School District’s new high school, school board members said they want to shift their focus — and funds — to addressing the more immediate needs of elementary schools instead.

At Tuesday night’s facilities meeting, six of the School Board members who were present said the money being saved for the future high school should be taken from the School Infrastructure Local Option Tax fund to be used for more pressing, current issues.

“It can be concluded there will be a new high school … there’s a need for it,” board member Sarah Swisher said. “But we need to set a priority for elementary schools. As long as we keep [tax] money for expensive, large projects, we can’t help the elementary schools.”

The funds saved for the new high school would contain $14.9 million in unreserved money. If the board decides to reallocate those funds, they would be free to be used for other issues, such as being used to install air conditioning in the elementary schools or to build new roofs.

“I would be pleased to see [the funds used] in the elementary schools,” board member Marla Swesey said. “Those elementary-school kids are our first priority; we should direct our money over there first. We need to use money to get some of those air-conditioning problems and really help the older aging schools. That’s where I stand.”

If the funds remain allocated as they are, they will continue to be saved for the new high school, which does not yet have a set date for beginning construction.

Some board members discussed a compromise, with having the fund reallocated and using bonds to help fund the new high school or other major projects.

“It may make sense to bond because of interest rates are low,” board member Jeff McGuinness said. “My wife will tell you I have problems borrowing money to spend when I already have money. If we have $30 million by 2015, 2017, but we don’t need a high school that soon, I don’t see the benefit of keeping that. There are trust issues to allocate that money, there are trust issues without allocating it. I change my mind daily, but today, I’d be for unallocating it.”

An issue that concerned most board members was spending money wisely.

“We’ve got to bring up our current buildings up-to-date,” Sally Hoelscher said. “We can use our current capacity at each school before building a new one. I do think we’ll have a third high school, we just need to be fiscally responsible for when it’s built. I’m glad to see [building a new high school is] in the long-term plan.”

Superintendent Steve Murley warned the board members that even if they did unallocated the funds, it wouldn’t be enough to take care of every need.

“The electrical service will be extensive work,” he said. “It would cost $10,000 for electrical infrastructure to put in a $300 air conditioner. I want to caution you, I don’t know what it’s going to cost to have air conditioning in every classroom. If you unallocated money, it will not cover all the existing facilities.”

The board members said they knew not all existing problems in the schools would be able to be fixed.

“We have to prioritize our needs,” Swisher said. “We may not be able to fix every crack, every spot. We don’t want you to put all the problems in a bag and fix them all.”


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