May 22, 2014

The Carroll Community School District will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, in the board room at Adams Elementary before it votes on whether to place an instructional support levy on the Sept. 9 ballot.

The Carroll district is one of only nine in the state that do not have an instructional support levy, which could generate nearly $1 million for classroom spending - with a property-tax rate increase of less than $1 per $1,000 of valuation. Faced with an $800,000 general-fund deficit - a first for the district - the school board several times throughout the 2013-14 year discussed running a levy.

The state of Iowa sets maximum per-pupil spending for all districts - an amount that is $1,600 below the national average. Coupled with a decade of declining enrollment, school districts have less money available each year for classroom instruction - distinct from funds that support construction or technology purchases - and more than 80 percent of which is spent on salaries, which continue to rise year after year.

Additionally, the state changed its requirements this year for districts operating a cash reserve levy - a funding source that has helped fill the gap between general-fund revenue and expenditures in past years, but is not available to the Carroll district this year.

Last week, the board eliminated the equivalent of 11 full-time positions in the district, cutting $650,000 from next year's budget. However, during the same meeting, it approved roughly $500,000 in employee package increases - meaning the cuts will barely make a dent in the district's financial straits.

The district can implement a five-year maximum board-approved levy - subject to public referendum - or place a 10-year-maximum voter-approved ISL on the ballot. The funds collected cannot exceed 10 percent of district costs. They can be collected through property tax, or a mix of property tax and income surtax - calculated from the amount of income tax paid by an individual and never to exceed 20 percent. For example, at a 10 percent income surtax rate, an individual who paid $100 in income tax would pay an additional $10 to the school district.

The surtax mix is often used to spread out the impact of a levy, said board member LaVern Dirkx.

But in an instructional support levy, at least $1 must be generated from property taxes. Based on Carroll County tax rolls, the maximum income surtax would be 5 percent, generating about $884,000 from income surtax and about $25,000 from property tax, increasing the property-tax rate 3 cents per $1,000 valuation. If the whole amount was collected from property taxes, the property-tax rate would increase about $1 per $1,000 valuation.

The board has discussed a 3 percent surtax - generating about $530,000 from income surtax and about $380,000 from property taxes. This mix would increase the property-tax rate 42 cents per $1,000, bringing the 2105-16 rate to $10.15 per $1,000 of valuation - still less than the $10.66 per $1,000 rate residents paid last year, superintendent Rob Cordes said previously.

The board determines the mix each year.

If the levy is placed on the September ballot, it will be the third attempt to pass the levy - voters rejected efforts in 2006 and 2008. But it will be the first campaign that is led by parents.

More than 20 parents, teachers and residents attended last week's special board meeting on budget cuts, pledging support for an instructional support levy. A handful of those parents returned Wednesday night with reports of progress.

According to John Munson, husband of board member Jen Munson who was absent from Wednesday's meeting, parents are in the process of forming a committee, have contacted individuals from the Mason City School District - where the ISL also failed multiple times before it was passed last fall - and have sought advice from the Iowa Association of School Boards on how to run a successful levy campaign.

"We want to thank the board for showing faith in the community," said Munson, stating that parents were organizing their efforts based on a September election timeline.

"I think there's a real groundswell," he added. "It won't be an easy campaign but I think there is a lot of passion."

Parents also hope to involve students - such as Delaney Schwarte, who attended Wednesday's board meeting and will start her junior year at Carroll High School in the fall.

Brad Jorgensen asked the board to be "positive" in the community.

"It just takes one negative comment to ruin numerous views," he said. "We know that there are going to be 'no' votes. We just need to make sure we're getting out there, we're talking to people, talking the positive."