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ICCSD board tables high school money grab for possible bond vote

IOWA CITY– A presentation from new ICCSD financial chief Craig Hansel put the brakes on reallocation of SILO funds for a new high school.
A policy change for $32 million in SILO monies was on the Oct. 2 agenda, but the motion was tabled until the board’s facilities and financial committees could meet again to decide the fate of the facility money pile after Hansel’s slides showed untapped potential.
A change to the district’s current authority under the revenue purpose statement (RPS) could be put on a December ballot at the earliest, Hansel said, that would allow the schools to borrow against future bonds yet to be issued or the extension of the SILO tax revenues.
Hansel presented two borrowing options for the schools: general obligation bonds (GO bonds) and tax anticipation revenue bonds (TAR bonds). GO bonds require a 60 percent approval by voters and would bump property taxes but could bring more money. TAR bonds require a district-wide RPS vote and then can be approved by the board, Hanel said, for up to $100 million.
Hansel said issuing a new RPS ahead of the 2017 expiration of the current SILO would be proactive planning for the district and would require a district-wide public vote ahead of bonding and ahead of extending the SILO, which would also require a vote before 2017.
Superintendent Stephen Murley praised Hansel’s diligence in finding a creative financial possibility.
ICCSD has been getting very creative lately, deciding to re-purpose Roosevelt Elementary last month and holding off on sale of the school that was closed in May. Brand new Borlaug Elementary was opened this fall to replace it. Roosevelt will become the district’s base for off-site programs: Bridges, Connections and T3.
Just before Hansel’s proposal, North Liberty Garner parent Joe Strathman asked the school board to end their discussions of reallocating SILO funds from the 2007-2017 sales tax set aside for a new high school until a comprehensive plan was complete.
Strathman, who moved to North Liberty in 2005 and has two young sons, admitted that the money wouldn’t cover a new high school, but said it also wouldn’t cover retrofits of older schools’ boilers, roofs, or air-conditioning needs.
Strathman asked the board to consider project-specific bonding to make up the difference and said further discussion of reallocating funds would erode the trust of many in our community and jeopardize the viability of SILO past 2017 or other future bonding and capital campaigns.
Board tabled discussion of the SILO money until the finance and facility committees could meet again.
At a draft presentation of a facilities plan in September, superintendent Murley put a Penn Elementary upgrade and expansion first on his construction timeline, but didn’t even set a date for a new high school in the long-term category.
An informal roll call showed nearly every board member was willing to release the new high school money from SILO to other projects, and the familiar redistricting talk began, to move West students to open seats at City High.
Administrators and board members alike said that financial conditions had changed and a new high school might not make the cut, perhaps putting talk of a new high school back on the chopping block yet again.
If the board doesn’t approve the construction of new school facilities by 2017, the retained SILO revenues, about $3 million that has been set aside each year for a new high school, can be released for other building projects.
According to several commenters at recent meetings, many young families have moved into North Liberty based on the 2007 SILO vote they say promised a new high school in the area.
Parents have threatened to pull their support of future school votes and board members have openly acknowledged the negative response to the discussion of SILO reallocation in past meetings.
SILO money is generated by a one-percent local sales tax and was intended for two elementary schools and a new high school.
During public comment at the Oct. 2 meeting, parents also voiced support of east-side elementary schools and installing air-conditioning at Twain Elementary, among other issues.
The next regular school board meeting is Oct. 16 at 6 p.m.