News Column

Mount Pleasant debt levy drops 23 cents

August 22, 2014

By Joey Aguirre, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa

Aug. 22--MOUNT PLEASANT -- Good news has come to the Mount Pleasant School District.

The Debt Service Levy for the $16.9 million general obligation bond that will go to voters Sept. 9 saw a 23-cent decrease, going from $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable valuation to $2.47 per $1,000.

The numbers come from Piper Jaffray accounting in Des Moines.

Originally, a $110,000 home would see an increase of $61 per year and a $55,000 home would see a $30.50 increase per year.

Tim Oswald of Piper Jaffray, who's handling the Mount Pleasant account, said Thursday at a rate of $2.45 on a home valued at $100,000, owners would see an increase of $41.35. On a $110,000 home, the increase would be $45.

Oswald said there is nearly $2 million less in interest that would be paid, and rates are much lower today than they would have been 10 years ago. The current high school bond will be paid off in 2017.

David Helman, co-chairman and spokesperson for "Our Kids -- Our Future," thinks this is the best time to invest in schools and has been spreading the word to anybody willing to listen.

"This is the best time to invest for schools in many years because the interest rates are so low," Helman said. "The interest rate we would get is half of what the rate was when the high school was built. It's a tremendous time to do this and will keep the costs very low."

Helman didn't have the official number about how much each Mount Pleasant resident would save, but said it would be lower than $50. The finance director for the district, Ed Chabal, was unavailable for comment Thursday.

According to a study done by Georgetown University about a school district in the District of Columbia, students in school buildings in poor condition had achievement 6 percent below schools in fair condition and 11 percent below schools in excellent condition. A study done of a small, rural Virginia school showed test scores were 5 percentile points lower in buildings with lower quality ratings.

"When you invest in this manner, student achievement goes up, student bad behavior goes down and employee moral improves," Helman said. "And people feel safer. Right now we have no fire suppression systems in these schools."

Helman said this week he was able to walk into Salem Elementary School unimpeded. And although he is known throughout the district, Helman's point is that if he could just walk in, anybody could just walk in.

"But if I had been a stranger, I could have done the same thing," Helman said. "A lot of the parents are really concerned about the safety issue."

The proposed improvements in the bond issue include security improvements to all four elementary schools, along with making sure the buildings are climate controlled.

Helman and his group have met with rotary clubs and the Mount Pleasant PTA. Two meetings are scheduled in Salem, at 7 p.m.Aug. 27 and at 9:30 a.m.Sept. 6 in the community building. Three meetings are scheduled for Mount Pleasant, at 7 p.m. on Aug. 26, Sept. 2 and Sept. 4 at Arbor Village South, a retirement community.

Helman has heard rumors around town the school board in fact does have the money for the air conditioning in case the bond issue fails.

"The needs are much greater than just air conditioning, first of all," he said. "Two schools are 50, and two schools are 60 years old, and there's been no updating. The bond issue provides the money so we don't have to exhaust and drain every resource over 15 years to bring this project about."

If the bond issue fails, Helman said the district will face a timing dilemma.

"They will have to find a solution and will only be able to begin with one school that'll take three or four years to scrape together the funds for them before they start the next school," Helman said. "Of course, that will create controversy, because with four schools, one will be happy, and the other three won't be."

The problem, Helman said, is that the board would have to draw money from other programs and departments, leaving some out of luck.

"They will not have the funds for the 1-to-1 technology that many schools are starting," Helman said. "And we know in 10 years, the high school is going to need a new roof that will cost $1.6 million. They will have to carve money out of that reserve to update the elementary schools."

"It will be a continuous day-to-day shell game of money management and robbing Peter to pay Paul, in turn short changing the kids."


(c)2014 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

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Source: Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA)

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