BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
Well, the letters have been printed, and we’ll print any more up until Sunday at midnight, on the upcoming school referendums.
I’m in the bag and always have been on these new schools. I’ve said all of this stuff before and there’s little chance of changing people’s minds so the best way to get these referendums passed is to motivate people to get out and vote. Vote early at the Auditor’s office if you choose, I just like the idea of going on election day and getting my opinion registered with the others that have a commitment to our communities.
But I do have to offer some corrections…or clarifications, if you will, to the newest threads of misinformation I’ve been reading in our social media blogs.
You can talk about where it’s built. That doesn’t matter to me, and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else. I have very good friends who say it’s built in a swamp and they get my standard response. Walt Disney built an empire in a swamp. There are amusement parks built in water, hotels built in ice. We’re the greatest minds in history…yeah…we can do that.
I can see they built it on the side of bluff, but technology and great minds and contracts prevailed. I’ve been in that school 100 times and I never seen one leak, one foundation issue, nothing. If there was an issue, and I don’t know that there wasn’t one, great minds and contracts prevailed and it’s fixed. Someone told me the foundations weren’t anchored correctly. What construction goes off without a hitch? We paid a firm to build us a great school and they did that…even if they had to come back and fix some things, which honestly I don’t know they did or didn’t. I just don’t care. They built what they said they were going to build.
It makes no sense to me that some are advocating spending $40 million to rehab two schools that will still need to be heated and maintained, when we can do one for $10 million less, ($13 million less if we’d have done it a year ago) that will be cheaper to heat, and now cool for the first time ever. Which also just about ends the weather-related early outs. And those that say we should have been doing it all along. Add that up. Maintenance was being done on those buildings. But this isn’t even really about that either.
It’s about a new generation of learning that’s needed to prepare our current youngest students for jobs that don’t exist. You just can’t do it there. An enterprising reader pointed out our middle school was listed as “Needs Improvement” and the elementaries were rated as “Commendable”. He speaks the truth, that’s what they’re listed at for 2017 on the Iowa School Report Card website. Here’s what wasn’t in that analysis. The Middle School has improved in points used to establish the rating each year since its construction, while the elementary schools have both gone down. And a quick look at the other junior highs in southeast Iowa will show all but two are listed at Needs improvement or worse, and all but one elementary school was listed as adequate or commendable. You can check for yourself by going to the following link: http://reports.educateiowa.gov/schoolreportcard just type in Fort Madison or any other school in southeast Iowa.
The other emotional aspect of a lot of “No” votes is rooted in the fact that the Middle School was built without the approval of the voters. I would submit that, too, is misinformation. It was built with funds from a funding mechanism that Lee County voters approved in 1999. It was called at that point LOST or Local Option Sales Tax, which approved 1% of a statewide sales tax pool to be used by the district for, according to the Iowa Department of Education, “school infrastructure needs or school district property tax relief”. “School infrastructure” means those activities for which a school district is authorized to contract indebtedness and issue general obligation bonds under Iowa Code section 296.1, except those activities related to a teacher’s or superintendent’s home or homes.”. You can fact check that at https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/school-facilities/funding/secure-advanced-vision-education-save.
While you’re there, click on the History of Local Option Elections link, you’ll see that Lee County passed that referendum 54.5 to 45.5 in September 1999. No supermajority needed there, and that was a vote to allow districts to bond against tax dollars. Talk about fickle. So, in a technicality, Lee County voters voted to allow the district to use tax dollars to build a new school. You just cannot say voters didn’t approve funding the construction of that school.
So just get out and vote to build the school and let’s move on. I’ve gotten to know this Kids Committee, the school board, and Superintendent Erin Slater pretty well. I’ve rubbed them the wrong way on several occasions, but I know this. They won’t quit until these kids have the facility they deserve to learn in this ever-shrinking world. If you don’t pass it this year, they’ll keep going it at…and the cost continues to go up. Pay now…or more later.
With regard to Central Lee. Give them the money, too. Why?
Because I’ve walked into that school about four times without being let in. I could’ve gone wherever I wanted. That’s pretty scary. Safety and security are paramount to their needs. No, it won’t take $13 million to put a security system in place, but they too want to move into the generation of ‘we can’, instead of ‘how can we’.
We’ve got people that are doing great things with our students, in our schools. Let’s put them in a building to get the job done and then watch what happens.