GCSD’s $39.9 million bond issue falls short with voters

 A $39.9 million bond issue that would have gone toward an extensive remodel of Northeast Elementary School, including an addition that would house the Kid’s Place Daycare, failed to gain the necessary votes in county-wide elections last Tuesday,

Of the nearly 2,000 ballots cast, 59 percent (1,134) said “No” to the measure that would have been the district’s largest ever general obligation bond to date. The bond was slated to pay for an extensive renovation of Northeast including the new daycare wing, which is currently housed on the Glenwood Resource Center (GRC) campus, a multipurpose gymnasium, administrative offices, security enhancements and infrastructure updates in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Funds would also have been used to update and establish an “Inventionland” lab and HVAC upgrades at the middle school.

Glenwood Superintendent Devin Embray said he was disappointed by the results of Tuesday’s vote, but not necessarily surprised.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into the effort to get the information out there and make people as informed as possible,” he said. “So, I’m disappointed it didn’t pass, but I’m not shocked by it.”

The district and a committee of parents, teachers and district stakeholders held a series of informational meetings throughout the fall to educate voters. Most were sparsely attended.

Embray said he couldn’t pinpoint what voters objected to specifically about the measure, but he speculated it was a combination of factors, including the scope of the project, the current state of property taxes and the economy in general that turned voters off.

Changes in the state’s rollback – the adjustment the state makes to limit increases in the taxable value of Iowa residential property, limiting how much property tax costs can rise annually – didn’t help, Embray said.

“Doing the rollback so late in the game, we couldn’t get the information out fast enough or to enough people so they would understand this wouldn’t impact their assessed valuations going up as much as the thought it would,” Embray said, citing the state rollback figure going from 54 percent to 46 percent for property owners.

With the district having the bond dept for Glenwood Community High School coming off the books in 2025, the new bond would have resulted in about a 15-cent (per $1,000 of assessed value) increase in property taxes above current figures. According to Embray, property owners in the district are paying $3.04 (per $1,000 of assessed value) currently on the high school debt.

“We didn’t have enough time to communicate all that out to people,” Embray said.

Embray said the district also heard from residents with concerns about the financial structure of the Kid’s Place Daycare facilities being a taxpayer burden as well as if Northeast needed a new gymnasium.

“That’s going to be an on-going, debatable thing,” he said. “We also never used to put gymnasiums in elementary schools and now we are and have been for many decades so it’s one of those things where school districts are having to have new conversations. And the economy is just not doing great right now.”

With the vote being as lopsided as it was – 59 percent to 41 percent – Embray called that rebuff of the measure a “resounding” answer.

“I don’t think we will bring this project back,” Embray said. “The way this was presented, with 41 percent approval rating on this project, we’d be smacking our community in the face if we brought this same project back next November and tried to pass it again.”

But that doesn’t mean the district isn’t considering a return with a measure in some form next year. With the GRC slated to close and the district losing its lease on the building that houses both its centra offices and Kids’ Place, decisions, and plans, will have to be made.

“It’s unfortunate,” Embray said of the bond not passing. “We obviously see the needs in our district that we have moving forward. We just have to be more creative in how we go about problem solving and go back to the drawing board and try to figure out another way we can make it happen and still meet the needs of our district moving forward.”

Embray called Tuesday’s bond “Plan A.” What Plan B might look like is speculation at this point.

“We don’t have the answers right now,” he said. “We have to go back into the war room and make alternative plans to see how we can make things work and try to present that back to our community to see if they’re willing to do that. We have some time. It’s obviously going to cost us more in the future because that’s always the case with failed bond issues. They always cost more in the future.”

Getting a plan together the community will support isn’t as hard it might sound.

“But we hope to put our heads together and bring up a plan our community will support. The Glenwood Community School District has a very supportive community. They’ve supported us immensely. We need to solve the tax issues on the residential side with business and industry coming in so our tax rates can go down for the residents that have been burdening more than their fair share.”


The Opinion-Tribune

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