School of the future

The Sioux Central School Board will ask voters on April 1 to step into the future of a viable rural school district by approving $7.5 million in bonds for academic and extra-curricular facilities improvements. New classrooms, an elementary gym, a new roof and a football field/track will help position the school district to attract students as education progresses and archaic district boundaries start to dissolve before our eyes.

We have witnessed a strong contraction in the number of high schools we used to cover regularly. Gone are Schaller-Crestland, Pomeroy-Palmer and Albert City-Truesdale. Alta and Aurelia overcame decades of division for whole-grade sharing. Laurens-Marathon is struggling to figure out what to do and when.

Sioux Central has seen enrollment growth in recent years. Its sharing arrangement with AC-T appears to be going well. Students already are open-enrolling out of Laurens-Marathon for Sioux Central. The district has a manufacturing employment base, a strong ag base and a fortunate location halfway between Storm Lake and Spencer. It also has relatively new facilities compared to its neighbors.

It would appear that investing in the future of Sioux Central and Storm Lake, for certain, is a good bet. It is harder to predict how other rural districts will survive changing demographic and workplace commuting patterns. We know that adjacent counties to Buena Vista are at the top of the state in population and job loss.

Given the Iowa public school architecture — curriculum demands and financing, with an emphasis on reducing property taxes — school boards are given the unenviable task of sorting out what is sustainable and practical as they try to map a route to success.

Sioux Central voters earlier rejected a levy that would have included income taxes as part of the blend. The April 1 question involves strictly general obligation bonds that are paid off by property taxes. We understand that the current property tax rate will not rise because of the bond issue as other bonded debt is retired. Possibly this is the tweak that will win over 60% of the voters.

Regardless of the funding scheme, Sioux Central patrons must first decide if their district is worth the investment. Location, enrollment trends and commuting patterns tell us that it is.

The least of the issues, but most thorny, will be relocating the football field from Albert City to Sioux Rapids. You need a football field next to your middle school and high school for a whole host of reasons, from physical education classes to athletic competitions. It doesn’t make financial sense to continue hauling students to and fro. And, we wish the board would include the baseball-softball complex in the plan; the Peterson field next to the river is a bug’s nest that is not as good as the Albert City complex was (even with its short fences).

It is time for Sioux Central to consolidate its operations for efficiency and community among the Rebel clan. Voting no will cast doubt on whether patrons believe their school will survive beyond the next few decades.

Tax rates drop

Don’t go complaining that the Storm Lake City Council and the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors are insensitive to what people may perceive as high property taxes. The council and the supervisors each plan to cut their tax rates by about 4% next year. The city is banking on federal and state grants. The county is participating in a new regional mental health funding system and is spending down its ending fund balance. General fund expenditures that rely mainly on property taxes are static.

Still, we are patrolling streets, putting down gravel and asphalt, protecting our lake, mowing our parks, expanding our sewage treatment capacity and keeping good employees with competitive pay and benefits.

The school district has yet to broach a budget while the Iowa Legislature violates its own law on setting state aid for local schools. We would bet that the Storm Lake school levy will not change much, if any.

Your property tax bill should go down next year, at least as far as the city and county portions are concerned.

One important point to remember: These entities would not be able to cut the tax rate were it not for the local option sales tax. It has become a vital funding source for streets, county roads and property tax relief. Remember that when the city proposes at some point in the near future to renew the sales tax. It means $1 million a year to the city alone, and the county is spending about $500,000 per year of sales tax revenue on roads.

For now, enjoy the tax relief.