BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison School District voters overwhelmingly approved a measure Tuesday that will allow a one-cent state education tax to be used to pay for facilities upgrades in the district.
District voters cast ballots at three locations and absentees totaling 822 in favor of an extended Revenue Purpose Statement, with 140 opposed to the move.
The approval allows the district to borrow against the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) funds through 2051. The district used the funds 10 years ago to build the Fort Madison Middle School.
This time around the funds will be used to moved PreK-6th grade students into the Middle School and combine 7th through 12th grades at the Fort Madison High School, with about $51.4 million in improvements, construction, and site renovations.
About $25 million of the work will get the students into the facilities and allow the retirement of Lincoln and Richardson elementaries in Phase 1. That phase will not require additional property tax increases.
Phase 2, which will finish off the work at the high school may need to be bonded, but options for that funding are still on the table including a possible third extension of the SAVE funds by the state, another voted PPEL levy, a general obligation bond, or the district’s cash reserves – or a combination of those.
Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater was finally able to extend heartfelt thank you to the voters, after district voters had put down five other attempts to pay for new construction.
“The Fort Madison Community School District is extremely grateful to the voters of the Fort Madison Community School District for the passage of the Revenue Purpose Statement (RPS) at the polls this evening,” Slater said.
“Voter support of the RPS gives the Fort Madison Community School District access to borrow (SAVE) funds for building improvements at no additional cost to taxpayers.
“On behalf of the board, administration, staff, parents and students, FMCSD is proud to be able to upgrade the learning environments for all PreK-12th grade students over the next several years.”
Fort Madison School Board President Dianne Hope said “bring on the fireworks”.
“I’m just over the moon,” she said Tuesday night. “It’s been five long years, five different votes and a lot of different people working to get this done.”
Hope said everyone knew the district needed new educational facilities, they just couldn’t get over the supermajority required in Iowa for issuing construction bonds.
“I can’t thank the people enough – all the people – who’ve put in the time to look at this in so many different ways, upside down, sideways, backwards and outside of the box.”
Hope said she’s all in on the new plans vs. the past efforts to construct a new PreK-3rd grade elementary on the middle school campus.
“I’m sold on it. After hearing the process they went through and how they looked at it and the data they used. I’m in.”
The board will vote to accept a recommendation for the transition of students and facility upgrades at it’s March 15th meeting. Then, assuming that passes the board, Hope said the hard work starts with the construction process.
Slater has indicated she would like to have the transition completed by the start of the 2023 school year. Hope said their should be shovels in the ground about a year from now.
“I really want to thank the district voters and supporters and the ad hoc committee and the whole district. I really feel good,” she said.
“Bring on the fireworks.”