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Discussing The ISL

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School District Hoping To Educate At ISL Forums

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

More that 30 people showed up to hear the Glenwood Community School District lay out its plan for an Instructional Support Levy (ISL) at a public forum on Monday.

Whether that translates into the necessary votes for the ISL to pass, voters and the Glenwood School District will have to wait until the Feb. 2 special election.

Glenwood’s previous attempt at the ISL failed last February after it did not achieve the simple majority it needed to pass, ending with a 434-434 tie. This time around, the school district is pulling out all stops to get the word out about the ISL with a series of public forums held in Glenwood, Silver City, Pacific Junction and Mineola.

Glenwood Board of Education President Theresa Romens and Superintendent Dr. Stan Sibley walked the audience through a power point presentation on the ISL and answered questions at Monday’s meeting in the Glenwood Community High School Auditorium. Romens said the goal of the forums is two fold: feedback and education.

“Input from the public is one thing, but we also want to get more information out,” said Romens.

The school district cannot use any district money to politic for the measure, but a committee comprised of parents and supportive district voters is raising money to promote the ISL. The committee plans to place ads, purchase signs and hand out fliers supporting the ISL in an effort to show voters what passage could mean for students.

“We’re just trying to get information in people’s hands, I think that’s why the town forums are important. We are giving the opportunity, if they have questions, to come in and ask those questions. It’s a public way to get answers to their questions,” Romens said.

The ISL itself is a state authorized, locally determined funding option that can be used for instructional purposes only. The funds generated can be up to a maximum of 10 percent of the district’s regular program costs or what amounts to about $820,000 for the Glenwood Community School District in the 2010-2011 school year. More than 340 of Iowa’s 361 school districts have an ISL. Creston and Glenwood are the only two districts in the Hawkeye 10 Conference that does not have an ISL.

Just how the funds will be generated through the levy will be up to the board of education and can change annually if the ISL is passed. The formula for how the levy will effect a district household depends on three things: proportion of ISL coming from income surtax versus property tax; the taxable value of your property; and lastly, your Iowa individual income tax liability.

According to the district’s estimates a household with a taxable valuation of $100,000 and a $2,000 Iowa individual income tax liability would pay approximately $212 annually if the ISL formula is based on 10 percent of income surtax. If the formula is split 5 percent on income tax and 5 percent on property tax, that amount drops to $182 annually. With all 10 percent based on property tax, the amount is $200 annually.

“So what is fair? That’s the biggest question we get,” said Sibley.

Sibley added the public will have input on what exactly is the answer to the fairness question but later admitted the board will ultimately make that decision.

Dave Warren of the Glenwood Board of Education said in an interview last week now is the time for voters to ask those questions and it’s his and the district’s job to answer them.

“I would like for people to bring objections and hold the district accountable for where the money is coming from and what the money will be spent on. That’s a major concern (of people),” said Warren. “I want this education process to work so people see what the money is used for and why we’re doing it.”

The funds generated, in theory, would allow the cash strapped district to maintain current programs, enrich curriculum and purchase new books, materials and technology in the long term. In Glenwood, the ISL money has a different short term role: plugging holes in the budget this year and down the road.

While other school districts have used their ISL to expand learning opportunities for students, Glenwood is talking sustainability with its ISL in lieu of massive program and staffing cuts.

The district cut over $800,000 in staff, curriculum and program materials during the 2008-2009 school year and another $300,000 this year. With a 10-percent state funding cut across the board costing the district about another $970,000, a dip in enrollment and flat allowable growth for next year’s budget, the district is looking at as much as a $1 million shortfall next year.

Even with the ISL, Sibley said, the district is facing cuts of between $500,000 and $700,000 next year. If passed, the ISL funding would kick in for the 2012 budget round.

Last year, Warren admits, the district was in a different financial position in going to the public asking for the ISL. He’s not certain if the current budget crunch helps or hurts the cause.

“Last year, it was more of a wish list of what we wanted to do. This year, it’s shear survival,” he said. “And this year the money is needed to ensure we can offer those same programs and classes to the kids we do now.

“I think that can help (it pass). I think last year, things were tight, and we tightened our belt and put aside a wish list. We have to do that this year.”

Romens blames the failure of the previous ISL measure on poor voter turnout. Of the district’s more than 8,000 registered voters, just 868 cast ballots, or about 10 percent, in the ISL special election last February.

“A lot of people came up to me afterward and said they just didn’t get out and vote,” Romens said. “That was a big thing. I think some people didn’t vote and that was their way of saying they didn’t know enough. It was a lot of apathy and people thinking other people would do it for them. I think some people didn’t vote because it was their way of saying no. We need people to come out and vote this year.”

A public ISL forum took place Tuesday night in Pacific Junction. Similar meetings are set for Thursday night at the Mineola Community Building (6 p.m.) and the City Hall in Silver City at at 7:30 p.m.