August 13, 2014

Aubrey Kemerling and her family moved to Carroll in December - a city selected by she and her husband specifically because of the strong school systems.

Kemerling spoke out Tuesday night during the second instructional support levy informational meeting hosted by the parent-led Better Education, Stronger Communities Committee. The Carroll Community School District levy proposal is on the Sept. 9 ballot.

Her husband sells seeds, Kemerling explained - the family could have settled 30 to 40 miles north or south of Highway 30 anywhere from Carroll to Ankeny.

"The schools were the sole reason we picked Carroll," she said. "To anyone on the fence about this levy - if nothing else, we should have community pride. There are two great school systems. In order to maintain that, it is worth the sacrifice of a few dollars a month from our pockets."

Toni Foval-North, a Carroll native who moved back to the area about a year ago, agreed.

"We need to get past this and say the division is over," she said. "This is for the kids - period."

Foval-North's comments were a response to rural Halbur resident, Mike Sibbel, who asked why he should have to pay more taxes for something from which he claimed he would "receive no benefit."

Sibbel suggested that parents of students in the public school district should pay fees themselves if they want the district to increase spending on students - he has already paid tuition for his children's education on his own, he said. Sibbel is an active member and former president of the Carroll County Farm Bureau.

Foval-North said she left town sure she would never return, but that stance changed when she had children of her own.

"We are investing in the community - we are one," she stressed. "Let's quit acting like there is a division in our community. Please invest in the kids - let's be that progressive community we claim we are."

The September vote will be the Carroll Community School District's third attempt in seven years to pass an instructional support levy. But the consequences of the levy failing a third time will be far more dire, parents and school board members warn.

The school district faced an $800,000 deficit in its general fund last year - a fund distinct from the management or building funds that cover new-construction costs and cannot be used to pay for salaries, classroom programs or curriculum that is purchased through the general fund. Parents got involved in levy efforts this spring when this deficit resulted in proposed cuts to teaching positions that could have pushed the number of students in fifth- and sixth-grade classes to more than 30.

The deficit is the result of perpetual under-funding by the state. Districts can spend no more than the state Legislature's allotted per-student amount, even if costs outrun the state's funding increases - which they have. District officials have once again been told not to expect more than a 2 percent increase in funding next year, said board member and parent Jen Munson previously.

The instructional support levy is the only mechanism that allows a district to generate additional general fund dollars - and Carroll Community is one of only nine districts in the state that does not have this levy in place.

The ISL would generate nearly $1 million for use in Carroll public school classrooms in the 2015-16 school year - and the cost to the average homeowner in Carroll would be less than $4 per month.

The school board has pledged to split the cost of the levy between property taxes and an income surtax, which means renters and other residents will help pay the levy as well. Based on a 50-50 mix, the property tax would increase 44 cents per $1,000 of valuation - resulting in a tax rate still well below neighboring districts. In the same year the ISL would start, a bond debt will expire, reducing the rate 24 cents per $1,000, leaving a net increase of the levy of only 20 cents per $1,000 of valuation. The median home value in Carroll is about $119,000. A resident with a home assessed above the average, at $150,000, will pay taxes on $69,000 due to residential tax rollbacks. This pocketbook impact amounts to $1.15 per month in additional property taxes.

The income surtax would be set at about 3 percent. The median household in Carroll makes about $45,000 and pays about 2.43 percent in taxes, or about $1,101. The surtax - 3 percent of this roughly $1,000 - would amount to $33 more per year, or $2.75 per month.

Commercial businesses would see a larger property-tax increase, but would not pay the income surtax. The impact on a $250,000 business would be about $50 per year in additional taxes.

Drastic cuts will be made next year if the ISL does not pass. The district already has only two nurses to cover four buildings. Parents should also prepare to see larger class sizes; reduced programs, such as sports and agriculture; transportation fees, which could hit Carroll and Kuemper Catholic School students; reduced classes, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses; and fewer concurrent enrollment options - enjoyed by students at both Carroll Community Schools and Kuemper Catholic Schools, these classes provided graduates with more than 1,200 college credit hours in the 2013-14 spring semester alone, a cost savings to parents of $162,000.

Further in the favor of the ISL is the area's historically low tax rate, say advocates. The school board has lowered the tax rate roughly $4 per $1,000 of valuation over the last decade, partly by paying off old debt. Ten years ago, the property-tax rate was $13.01 per $1,000 - next year it will be $9.15 per $1,000. This rate is lower than its fellow conference schools, which average $18.60 per $1,000, and its adjacent districts, which average $12.10 per $1,000. It is also lower than other cities with parochial schools, which have tax rates of roughly $12 and $14 per $1,000 of valuation.

"Nobody likes to pay more taxes, but sometimes tax rates get low enough to invest in things," said Brad Jorgensen, spokesman for the parent-led committee. "I think our kids are the best thing to reinvest in."

Absentee voting is open for the school levy. Vote any day from now until Sept. 9 at the Carroll County Courthouse. For more information on the ISL, contact the committee via email at