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All about the bond

CCA holds informational meetings ahead of $36 million vote
Heidi Skow (left) and Tanya Reade were among the small crowd gathered Thursday, July 13, at Tiffin Elementary to learn about the Clear Creek Amana School District’s upcoming bond issue referendum. Skow and Reade expressed their support for the $36 million in construction projects across the district. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Superintendent Tim Kuehl walked a tightrope Thursday, July 13, at Tiffin Elementary in one of several informational meetings built around getting upcoming bond information out to the district’s patrons.
While state law forbids the district’s administrators and school board of directors from actively advocating for yes votes, they are able to walk the fine line, as Kuehl did, between informing and campaigning.
A small crowd gathered in the library as he explained the reasoning behind a $36 million bond issue voters in the CCA Community School District are asked to approve Sept. 12. The bond funds a new elementary school, another addition to the high school and other building and infrastructure projects.
Kuehl ran through a plethora of facts and figures regarding continued enrollment growth in the district, dwindling classroom space, the district’s revenue and financial health, and the impact the bond would have on taxpayers. He noted the district’s overall enrollment pretty much doubled in 16 years, making CCA the second-fastest growing school district in the state, behind Waukee.
“And, if you’re following the development around the area, it’s only going to increase,” he said.
Kuehl showed the latest enrollment projections from RSP & Associates, a consulting firm hired by the district to monitor and predict enrollment trends. By RSP’s estimates, North Bend Elementary in North Liberty will exceed its instructional capacity (the optimal number of students in a building) again this year. North Bend has exceeded its instructional capacity several times since opening in 2008, with additional educational space being created through a series of makeshift classrooms in the commons areas. Six additional classrooms were added to the building in 2013.
RSP expects both North Bend and Tiffin Elementary (TE) to exceed the structural capacity (the number of students the building is designed to handle) by 2021, while TE is expected to exceed its instructional capacity in 2019.
If approved by the voters, the bond funds a $21 million elementary school at the Tiffin site, which would take the load off of North Bend and TE by receiving those buildings’ fourth and fifth graders, making the two elementaries pre-kindergarten through third-grade facilities.
A two-story classroom addition being completed at the high school, if projections are accurate, should accommodate students through the 2021-22 school year. The bond issue funds an additional academic wing for the building, which opened in 2009. This second addition would be ready for use in 2022 at an estimated cost of $7.4 million.
Kuehl stands by RSP’s estimates.
“They have a 97 percent accuracy rate,” he told the gathering. “And, they’ve been very accurate for us, as well.”
The trend is for roughly 150 new students in the district every year, Kuehl noted, but emphasized these are resident students and not open enrollment from outside the district. “Our net open enrollment has actually declined over the last few years,” he added.
RSP expects the district to surpass 2,500 students in the 2018-19 school year and to hit above 3,000 district-wide by 2021. Two areas are largely responsible for these projections: the northeast part of Tiffin, where developments are underway, and the Coralville West Land Use Area across Interstate 380 from Tiffin, where Kuehl said 10,000-12,000 residents over the next 10-12 years are expected.
“The west side of Tiffin is still going (new developments), North Liberty … all over,” he added. “It just keeps booming.”
A common refrain, Kuehl said, is that overcrowding can be mitigated by shifting kids to less-populated schools, such as Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford or Amana Elementary in Amana.
“That’s a true statement,” he said. “But even if we do that, in 2022, we’re still over (capacity). It’s inevitable (that a new school will be needed).” He called moving students a band-aid on a bullet hole.

The proposed projects on the bond referendum came from the minds of a facility committee that met several times earlier this year and formulated a series of recommendations.
The new elementary school and high school expansion were chief among the short-term solutions (the new elementary should be open in 2019). Looking further down the road, the committee also recommended building a new high school, although the project is not included as part of the current bond issue. This would result in the current high school becoming a middle school and the middle school likely becoming an upper-elementary attendance center.
The committee, with input from administrators, recommended a number of other projects across the district including air conditioning work and a security upgrade at Amana, improved security at North Bend and Clear Creek, and a new access drive to reduce congestion at the middle school in Tiffin. A replacement for the 100-year-old gym at Clear Creek is also proposed at an estimated cost of $3.3 million. Associated with the replacement are improvements to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. With modern gyms at the other buildings, equity was given as one reason for replacement, in addition to the cramped quarters and ADA non-compliance.
One proposed project, which raised eyebrows, is a new parking lot at the high school, between the current driveway into the site and the West Campus building– an estimated $2.5 million venture. Concerns and questions were raised as to how a parking lot could cost so much.
The answer lies in the storm water detention basin where the lot would sit and the need to erect a complex structure over the basin, substantially increasing the cost. However, supporters note the profound lack of parking on a normal day, which is only exacerbated during special events and athletic contests.
If approved, not all projects would begin immediately. The Amana and Clear Creek projects, as well as the new elementary, are scheduled to start in 2018, while the high school parking lot would be a 2019 project and the high school expansion would be ready to go in 2022.

The topic of athletic fields was also brought up with the committee opting to not include any new softball or baseball diamonds in the bond referendum.
While the neighboring Iowa City Community School District included an athletic complex for Liberty High School, in North Liberty, as part of a $190 million bond issue for voters to decide on in September, Kuehl stressed to the assembly that the district, to his knowledge, has not used general obligation (GO) bond money (requiring voter approval) for athletic purposes. He pointed out SILO/SAVE bonds, paid for with sales tax revenue, funded the football and track complex that opened in 2009 in Tiffin.
Kuehl added renewal of the SAVE tax by the Iowa Legislature, currently set to expire in 2029, will be crucial to funding future projects, including baseball and softball facilities. SILO/SAVE dollars also paid for the performing arts center at the high school and added a pod of classrooms at North Bend.
Kuehl noted SILO/SAVE funds are tied up repaying those bonds, leaving little in the way of discretionary spending dollars available.
He also ran through the various funding streams available to Iowa school districts with a particular focus on the Debt Service Levy, which is used to pay off bond issues. Currently the district is at $4.03, and Kuehl emphasized only the slightest of increases would be necessitated by passage of the bond issue.
“The most it (Debt Service Levy) can ever be is $4.05. Legally. Period,” he said. “We can not levy more money for debt service than $4.05 per $1,000 (of valuation).”
Kuehl said this is why he refers to the bond as tax neutral. “All it impacts is the debt service, and we can’t levy at a higher rate (for that fund).”
The district has the bonding capacity for $36 million due to property valuations going up, he added. The increase in valuations led to taxpayers seeing an increase in their taxes, with the district’s general fund a direct beneficiary. However, he pointed out, the school district does not determine property valuation; cities and counties do.
“We can determine the rate; the valuation determines the amount,” Kuehl said.
The district did increase its Cash Reserve Fund Levy, which is used to make up the difference between state funding and the actual number of kids in the district.
School funding is based on a per-pupil amount, determined by the district’s certified enrollment on Oct. 1. However, those funds do not arrive until the following school year. In other words, the 2016 enrollment count determines the funding from the state for 2017 regardless of any additional students in the district in 2017. The district uses the cash reserve to pay for those students.
With the large increases in students each year, the reserves have dipped significantly, leading the school board to authorize an increase in the levy to replenish the fund. The district’s levy went from $15.82 to $16.95 per $1,000 of valuation.
“It went up about a buck, so if you hear people say, ‘It went up because of the bond,’ no. It did go up, but it went up because of the Cash Reserve Levy.” He added the state would allow the district to tax higher for the Cash Reserve, but emphasized, “We’re not hitting that maximum, we’re getting what we need to pay the bills.”
Kuehl will host one more informational meeting Monday, Aug. 7, at North Bend Elementary starting at 6:30 p.m. The meeting replaces the one originally scheduled for July 11, postponed due to severe weather.

Proposed projects:
Amana Elementary:
A/C ($375,000), security upgrades ($35,000)
Clear Creek Elementary:
gym ($3,324,000), ADA improvements ($310,000), A/C in the kitchen/cafeteria ($170,000), security upgrades ($35,000)
North Bend Elementary:
security upgrades ($18,000)
Middle school:
access drive ($212,000)
High school:
addition ($7,410,000), new parking lot ($2,546,000)
New elementary school:
Total: $35,635,000