ISL Aimed At Students, Curriculum

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Glenwood School District Vote Set For February

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

To ISL or not to ISL...

...That is the question the Glenwood Community School District is asking of district voters in a Feb. 3 special election considering the district’s adoption of an Instructional Support Levy. If passed, the measure would allow the school district to collect more than $700,000 in new funds.

The Instructional Support Levy (ISL) – an alternative revenue stream for school districts funded through a mix of state aid, income tax surtax and property taxes – would allow the Glenwood School District to improve its instructional programs through curriculum and technology purchases, staff if necessary to improve course offerings, and professional development.

Glenwood is currently one of just 23 school district among Iowa's 700 that does not currently utilize the ISL.

The Feb. 3 vote will be held at the Glenwood American Legion from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voters will be asked to vote yes or no to authorize “an instructional support tax in an amount (after taking into consideration instructional support state aid) not exceeding 10 percent of the total regular program district cost for the budget year...” for a period of 10 years.

The vote will require a simple majority of district voters to approve or deny the levy.

While the measure will indicate the funds will come from a combination of income surtax and property taxes, the language does not stipulate on what percentages of each the funds will draw.

The decision to draw funds based on a ratio of income surtax and property taxes will be made by the board following the state’s Department of Management aid and levy determination for the 2009-2010 budget round this February. This state formula will determine what the overall tax rate will be for the district and allow the district to make a determination that best suits their current tax structure with relation to income surtax and property taxes.

“The board will ask what is the very best deal they can set for the taxpayers,” said Glenwood Superintendent Dr. Stan Sibley. “And we aren’t really going to know what that (percentage) will be until we are in the budget setting situation.”

As proposed Glenwood's ISL could not exceed 10 percent of the total regular program district costs for the budget year. The maximum amount the Glenwood School District could raise according to this formula and the 2007-2008 budget is $770,000. Of that figure, $92,200 or 10 percent, would come from state aid and the remaining $678,200 would come from a ratio of property taxes and income surtax.

According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, if Glenwood were to seek the maximum 10 percent of their total regular costs in the 2007-2008 budget in a ratio of 10 percent on property taxes and 90 percent on income taxes, the annual property tax costs for a $75,000 home would go up roughly $8.22 and the annual surtax per tax return would go up $64.62.

A 50-percent property tax, 50-percent income tax ration ISL would increase property taxes annually on a $75,000 home by $36.71 and the annual surtax per tax return would increase by $35.90.

Sibley said the district’s $11 million general fund, or regular program costs, is “the bread and butter” of the district’s overall $21 million budget. Roughly 80 percent of that general fund goes toward district salaries while the remaining is instructional funding for text books and curriculum and the “cost of doing business” day-to-day, said Sibley.

For the last two months, the district has been taking their case for the ISL to the people. Sibley himself has been meeting with civic and community groups throughout the district with a detailed powerpoint presentation highlighting the benefits of the ISL for the district's more than 2,000 students.

More than just being transparent about a levy process and complex tax structure few in the district understand, Sibley said these forums allow feedback and input from the community on what the ISL will be used for.

The question Sibley has been asked the most at the public forums has been why didn’t the district pursue this alternative revenue stream sooner, before the district got off its planned curriculum and technology update schedule.

The answer is very simple. The district tried to pass an that five-year, board approved measure was dropped after a district petition against it.

Sibley, who was not with the district during the first ISL go-around, said he was told by board members when he was hired in 2001 that the district “was beat up pretty good” by the public.

“It was alleged that the board tried to run the high hard one past the public and slip it past them,” Sibley said. “Which was not true, but they (the school board) felt vulnerable to that change so they withdrew the effort.”

Shirley Lundgren, the Glenwood School District’s financial manager came to Glenwood this summer after more than 10 years in the same position with the Shenandoah School District. Lundgren was part of Shenadoah's successful effort to get a board approved ISL five years ago. And the district has never been happier with the results, she said.

“We needed it to keep afloat,” said Lundgren. “But we were on a curriculum cycle and it worked great for K-12 improvements. They also applied (the ISL) to really improving their technology in the new high school.”

Shenandoah recently renewed its ISL last fall for another five years.

Lundgren doesn't recall a district to her knowledge that has ever approved an ISL for a period of time and then decided not to renew it.

“Once you get it, you see the value of it and it never really goes away,” she said. “If the ISL goes away, the curriculum you added or the class you added, it goes away too, which no district wants.”

When Sibley arrived in the district in 2001, the board made a three pronged plan to improve the district: the 1-percent school infrastructure local option sales tax, a facilities upgrade and the ISL.

Following the county’s passage of the SILO tax in 2003 and the approval of the district of a $21.5 million bond issue for the currently under construction Glenwood High School in March 2006, the district decided to once again pursue the ISL this summer.

But this time with the community's blessing, he said.

“This will go a long way in leveling the playing field,” said Sibley.