Embray Answers ISL Questions

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Glenwood School District Vote Set For Feb. 1

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

The fact just a handful of voters turned out for a public discussion of the economics and impact of the Instructional Support Levy (ISL) going before district voters on Feb. 1 wasn’t a discouraging sign for Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray, who presented the district’s plan for the ISL at the meeting held at the Glenwood Golf Course last Wednesday.
    “This was just basically a meeting to discuss the ISL,” said Embray. “As far as turnout, it was snowing that night, and we didn’t really advertise it as a ‘public forum.’ If we had, we would have done everything we could to advertise it, so no I wasn’t too disappointed with the turnout.”
    Most of the questions Embray faced weren’t new. Attendees wanted to know what the ISL might potentially cost them and how the money will be spent should more than 50-percent of district voters say yes at Tuesday’s special election.
    “I thought the questions were really good,” said Embray. “And I thought we had pretty good answers for those questions.”
    The district held its own public forum on Monday in the Glenwood Community High School Auditorium. At that forum Embray used a power point presentation to lay out the ISL’s impact on the school and taxpayer’s pocketbooks. A series of videos went up on the district’s website this week featuring Embray discussing the ISL.
    “The idea we wanted to get across was answering the questions we’ve been asked,” said Embray of the videos. “Here are the questions, here are our answers.”
    Darcey Butts was at Wednesday’s meeting. He said he was disappointed in the turn- out but not, however, in Embray’s presentation.
    “I was quite impressed with Mr. Embray and I was reasonably happy with how they presented how they will transfer funds from one account that appears to have  enough money in it to an account that doesn’t so they can utilize it,” said Butts.
    Butts, a Glenwood veterinarian, declined to say if he voted for the ISL in either of the previous two years but did say Wednesday’s meeting did sway him slightly. He declined to say, however, which way he was being swayed.
    “I think it did (sway me) and I’d rather not say,” said Butts. “I’d like to keep my vote private. But I will say I was happy with what he (Embray) presented.”
    What Embray and the district has presented in its handful of public forums, meetings and FAQs on its website is an ISL plan that will ask for 7 percent of the district’s regular program costs, or about $750,000. State law allows for districts to levy up to 10 percent but Embray said the district, after conducting a needs assessment, determined the 7 percent amount is sufficient. The money can be used for any “general fund” purposes but not building construction, food service programs or any other “non-general fund” purposes, such as collective bargaining for salaries or benefits. The revenue would be used to purchase curriculum materials such as textbooks, workbooks, software, technology and other supplemental learning materials for students.
    Glenwood is one of 16 district’s statewide and the only in southwest Iowa that does not currently have an ISL.
    Members of the Glenwood Board of Education have  said, if the ISL passes, the district will gather 90 percent of the revenue from income surtax and 10 percent from property taxes. In addition to a firm funding plan, the board has also committed an additional $200,000 from local option sales tax (SILO) funds to reduce the district’s debt for the five years of the ISL. Along with that, the board has promised to reduced its debt service by $200,000 annually over the next five years to help lower the property taxes and forgo the district-wide $35 per student textbook fee if he ISL is passed.
    What that all boils down to, according to the district estimates, is a property tax rate that will drop and and an income tax rate that would rise to about seven percent. So, economically for a district resident with a home assessed at $200,000 and a state income tax liability of $2,000 they will pay $140 more in income taxes but $66 less in property taxes for a net increase of about $74 annually.
    Embray knows, the financial aspect at play in voting yes or no on the ISL is a key factor. But it’s not the only factor, he said.
    “I think the finances are big for many people but as big as that is, why we are  asking for the dollars and what we plan on using them for are just as important,” said Embray. “Some people are confused that we just spent $300,000 on a bus garage, why can’t you just use that on curriculum? They don’t understand how a school operates with finances with dollars available in one area that can’t be spent in another area. So the fact that we can do what we’re doing to reduce property taxes is a creative way to go about making it work.”
    Butts isn’t sure why the ISL didn’t pass with Glenwood voters the two previous times but pointed to the district’s missing out on more than $400,00 in state funds due to a calculation error in enrollment reporting three years ago, months of delay in construction of the high school and hosting the high school prom in Council Bluffs last year as serious questions he has about the district’s leadership that may have contributed to the No vote.
    “They had a brand new building for prom and they didn’t even use it,” said Butts. “I think that’s just part of it but it’s a lot of it. The other issue people have is how confusing school budgeting is, how they can’t shift their money around to cover costs. I think I understand it but I’m not sure the average voter understands that.
    “They (the district) talk about having two different pockets books they can spend money from but we as tax payers just have one billfold.”
    Butts has heard very little comment on the ISL this time around. Of what he has heard, he’s heard no complaints about educational funding. The criticism he’s heard is related to the district’s oversight and leadership from the top down.
    “I  don’t hear anyone complaining about not funding education, I think the way this was presented and the potential it has can do a lot in changing some minds on it,” he said.
    Embray, six months into his stint as the district’s superintendent, knows there’s no shortage of opinions and minds to change in the district.
    “I’ve heard the criticism,” said Embray. “But I’m doing everything I can as a superintendent and the district as a whole are doing everything we can to answer the questions that are coming up and to try and be as transparent as possible about things. I think that’s been good.
    “We’ve obviously ratcheted up accountability in terms that we deal with things that we’re made aware of. As far as finances and budgets, we’re going through a pretty intense budget process to put things together and look at our district so we have a process in place should we have to do something there. We’re assessing our facilities, trying to be accountable with that there. We’re trying to move our district forward as best we can. We’re a good district. We want to be a great one.”
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Voting At American Legion Hall

Voting in the Feb. 1 special election for the Glenwood Community School District ISL (Instructional Support Levy) will take place from noon to 8 p.m. at the Glenwood American Legion Hall, located at 102 N. Vine St.
    Absentee ballots for the ISL Election are now available at the Mills County Auditor’s office.
    You may vote in person Monday - Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m  - or you may request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you.
   The request forms are available on the county website at www.millscoia.us listed under County Forms specifically, Auditor. 
 For additional information, contact the auditor’s office at 527-3146.