Third Time The Charm?

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Glenwood School District To Vote On ISL Feb. 1

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

   The Glenwood Community School District is hoping the third time is the charm for the Instructional Support Levy.
    After the two previous attempts failed to pass among district voters, Glenwood is again seeking permission to collect more than $700,000 in additional tax revenue to support learning needs and curriculum improvements in the cash strapped district. The ISL measure will be put to a district-wide vote in February.
    In February 2008, district voters were deadlocked on the vote, meaning the measure failed. The ISL needs a simple majority among voters for approval. Last February, the measured failed once again, this time by a more decisive 994 to 717 margin.
    Devin Embray, Glenwood Superintendent,  said the needs of the district and its lagging curriculum process, more than anything, decided the time was once again right to pursue the ISL.
    “The lack of a curriculum process in our district and the fact that our resources are so terribly outdated means we need to put in a process that ensures things for years to come, not necessarily on the monetary side, but definitely on the professional development, training and curriculum side. We don’t want to lose step with having these things in place,” he said.
    The district has lacked a comprehensive curriculum process across all grades for more than a decade, said Embray. Books, materials and professional development for teachers have all lagged behind.
    “It’s going to take  money to set that process right,” said Embray. “And the longer we wait the more students we’re going to miss. As we looked at our process, we accessed and defined what our needs would be and once we found out what those needs would be, we placed that in front of the board and the board basically said we need to move forward with this.”
    State law allows for district’s to collect ISL funds for up to 10 years with voter approval. These funds can then be used to upgrade learning materials, such as textbooks, technology and computers, add new staff and expand course offerings. The funds cannot be used on capital improvements, food service programs or for any other “non-general fund” purposes. Currently all but 16 districts in the state of Iowa utilize the ISL, according to Embray.
    Districts may collect up 10 percent of the regular program district costs funded by a combination of local property and income surtaxes for the ISL. While Glenwood, according to state law, could ask for well over $1 million in new revenue, Embray said the district needs assessment called for nine percent, or about $759,372 in new revenue.
    In a meeting Monday at the Glenwood Community School District Central Office board room, the Glenwood Board of Directors voted unanimously to levy for approximately 90 percent of those funds from income surtaxes and 10 percent from property taxes, should voters pass the ISL. As a part of that funding scenario the district also plans to pay down its debt with $286,000 from School Infrastructure Local Option sales tax money each year for the next five years. What this means for taxpayers is a reduction in the total tax rate from 18.28711 to 17.60107, or about 68 cents.
    Why ask for 10 percent if you only need 9 percent?  Embray said, “I think that’s a positive. We’re trying to look at things like that. I think in the past we looked at the whole enchilada and I don't think that’s the way to go. I’m not criticizing previous votes, I’m just saying that we know what we need, let’s be conscious of that and frugal.”
    Embray, who is in his first year as superintendent and declined to speculate why the previous two ISL votes failed, said one major difference between this ISL vote and the previous two is the transparency of the process. The district is making it clear up front that while 10 percent is the maximum a district can take, the district only needs 9 percent. Also, when voters step into polls on Feb. 1, they will know exactly how much a yes vote will mean to them on their property and income taxes.
    “We think by coming out of the gate saying ‘okay, these are our needs and these our options,’ to me, knowing that up front, makes everyone informed ahead of time and there’s no rumor mill and no misinformation. I think people will appreciate that more. Whether they vote yes or not, at least they will be informed.”
    The superintendent has suggested that if the ISL passes, the district could consider forgoing its textbook fees taxes as not to “double dip” on constituents. It’s that sort of “frugal” attitude,  he said he hopes will show district voters they are serious about passing the ISL for the betterment of the entire district.
    “I think we’re showing we are being frugal and we are doing things to show people we’re trying to make things work,” he said. “We’re not asking and gouging. We are really trying to tear this baby apart and say ‘yes, these are terrible times right now,’ but they aren’t always going to be bad times. So what can we do right now to work for us and our constituents?”