Letter to the Editor – Board member says rehabbing is a band-aid

Opinion

Letter to the Editor

I was elected to the Fort Madison Community School District Board of Directors in 2015. I moved into the district in 1976 and my three children attended and graduated from our school district over a period of 28 years.

Along with so many parents and students, I have seen three school buildings in the district removed from use and demolished or sold. It was disheartening to see these neighborhood schools disappear. However, I recognized that those neighborhood schools were beginning to no longer be able to meet needs of all students. Those needs have changed drastically over the past hundred years to meet education needs of all students along with the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide handicap access.

I don’t believe that renovating our current elementary schools would be fiscally responsible. We might be able to “band-aid” security, improve some access and upgrade heating and air conditioning, however, we would be drastically reducing the outdoor play spaces. During renovations, the need to move students into other spaces for more than one school year (not sure where this space would even be) would certainly not be conducive to education. In the end, we would still have the major traffic concerns at the beginning and end of each day due to traffic on surrounding streets and Business Highway 61 with an even larger amount of bond money to be repaid than with a new facility.

I was a member of the voting public when the community turned down a bond referendum to build a new middle school. I, too, questioned the ability of the school board to move ahead with building a new school after the voters turned down the new construction plans.

I was able to understand the process to build a new middle school by talking with FMCSD school board directors. I learned that the SAVE (Secure and Advanced Vision for Education) fund dollars legislated in 2008 were enacted to provide better equity across all state school districts to build new or improve existing school buildings, upgrade technology and fund other equipment needs. I learned how the district was able to bond against those newly legislated funds to build the new middle school with no additional property tax to the district taxpayers. As a result of those funds that are legislated through 2029, we have a wonderful facility to provide our fourth through eighth grades a safe, secure and technologically improved learning facility that will serve our community for many years. Those SAVE funds have also been used to upgrade our high school facility with replaced energy efficient windows, roofs and heating and cooling systems which has allowed the district to use locally generated funds to provide ongoing yearly maintenance to Richardson and Lincoln elementary schools.

Many rumors have persisted about the Middle School location and building integrity, however, I would challenge anyone to tour the facility to see that those rumors are not true and not intruding on or in the facility. Property taxes did not increase to pay for the new Middle School. Any increase to property taxes since 2009 has been a result of lowered state funding allocated for each student which has not kept up with inflation, increased utility costs, and other general budget needs that are compensated through property taxes within the district. I also believe that the FMCSD has experienced and learned about pitfalls to avoid concerning access, construction and parking related to building a new school facility and are very aware of those issues for any new design.

Over the past several months as many have worked to pass a bond to build a new pre-Kindergarten through third grade school, several “myths” have surfaced and hopefully many have now been answered. Requests to see final blueprints, line item costs, breakdowns of facility vs furniture and equipment have been made. As a Board, we cannot provide all of these exact details because as stewards of public monies, we can’t and won’t spend money on final blueprints until we have money to spend. Taking money from current school funds would most probably mean less money for much needed maintenance to continue to keep our buildings operating.

Public meetings over the past two years to discuss the bond issue have been sparsely and disappointingly attended. In many cases, individuals most adamantly and publicly opposed to passing the school bond have not attended a meeting nor offered opinion at any school board meeting or workshop. Some of the individuals that attended those meetings did not agree with information and answers provided and are now stating that questions are going unanswered. The school board has not provided any untrue or false information concerning the bond details and tax impact. We have tried to ensure that property owners understand the yearly tax impact from the bond referendum. We have consulted with a professional and industry respected asset management firm concerning ability to meet this bond’s financial impact, suitability and propriety.

We don’t know exactly what a new elementary building will look like upon completion. We do have an artist’s concept, based on input from community members, teachers and students that attended meetings to begin to develop a building plan. We have state and federal mandated directives and regulations to follow and fulfill. Classroom sizes, open spaces for lunchroom and public spaces will be designed and built to all of these requirements. We recognize the need to provide separate playground equipment for the age different students who will attend this school.

We don’t know what final costs will be – construction costs are estimated to increase each year by no less than 4 percent, however, with recent hurricanes, fires and storm damage we are expecting even larger increases. As a result of passing the bond referendum, we do know that we are not authorized to spend more than $30 million on a completed and much improved secure school facility, equipment, parking and access from Bluff Road (which will require upgrades and a turning lane), a baseball and a softball field.

Once a formal request for a school bond referendum is submitted to the county auditor, a school board director can answer questions or provide information. We have tried to answer all questions. We have not been able to provide answers that everyone agrees with. None of the current board members were elected at the time the middle school was proposed or built. We don’t have hidden agendas. We are unpaid volunteers committed to providing our district students with the best education and facilities to support their education.

I urge our voters to put away negative feelings and bias from past opinions and decisions, good and perhaps those not so good or accurate.

I believe that each of us seek improvement and better lives for our own families, so please help to provide that for all of our district’s youngest students.

I am voting YES! I care about and believe in our students, our educators, support staff, school administrators and our community. I believe that a new school will provide a much improved education that is vital for the future vitality of our community and our businesses and industries.

Dianne Hope

Fort Madison

About Chuck Vandenberg 3156 Articles
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