Brad Jorgensen
Brad Jorgensen
August 6, 2014

Carroll Community School District's most recent class of graduating seniors scored on average more than 2 points higher on national college-entrance exams than their peers across the state.

But this level of quality education is not sustainable if the community does not step up to support the district, said parents Tuesday evening at the first of two informational community meetings on a proposed instructional support levy on the Sept. 9 ballot.

More than 20 residents attended Tuesday night's session. The highlights:

- School finance is funneled through three funds - the general fund, which pays for classroom tools, teacher salaries, and extracurricular programs; the management fund, which pays early retirement and building insurance; and building funds, which pay for hardware and construction. The money that enters each fund is primarily driven by state formulas and cannot be moved between accounts.

In short, the money paying for ongoing construction at the middle and high schools could not legally have been used to cover the district's recent roughly $800,000 deficit in the general fund, said parent and Better Education, Stronger Communities committee spokesperson Brad Jorgensen.

- The state has perpetually underfunded education - districts can spend no more than the state legislation'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 greater than a 2 percent increase in funding next year, said board member and parent Jen Munson. 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.

"97 percent of school districts in the state have this levy," said John Munson. "They're getting extra money in the general fund. We're falling behind."

- 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 thousand - next year it will be $9.15 per thousand. This rate is lower than its fellow conference schools, which average $18.60 per thousand, and its adjacent districts, which average $12.10 per thousand. It is also lower than other cities with parochial schools, which have tax rates of roughly $12 and $14 per $1,000 of valuation.

- If the ISL is passed in September, the total impact on the average household in Carroll would be less than $4 per month to generate nearly $1 million in classroom funding.

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 thousand, 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.

- "Drastic" cuts will be made next year if the ISL does not pass, said Jen Munson. Parents should prepare to see larger class sizes, possibly upwards of 30 students per teacher; 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. Those 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.

- The No. 1 reason families move is not for an adult to take a higher-paying job but to place children in a higher-quality school system, said Jorgensen. Home values increase as much as $50 per square foot if located within a high-quality school district. Stronger schools make stronger communities.

- When the ISL was last voted on in 2008, it lost by 700 votes - but only 4 percent of Fairview Elementary School parents voted, and even the greatest turnout, among high school parents, was only 20 percent.

"The problem isn't no-votes, it's that we don't have yes-votes. Parents are not engaged," said board member and parent Duane Horsley. "It's time to hit the streets."

Absentee voting is already open for the school levy. Vote any day from now until Sept. 9 at the Carroll County Courthouse.

For more information on the ISL, the Better Education, Stronger Community Committee's next informational meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, in the Harold Bierl Room at the Chamber of Commerce in the Depot Center.