A group of citizens is conducting a petition drive to compel the Council Bluffs Community School District Board of Education to call for a referendum on a $37 million bond issue.
District voters would then decide in a special election whether the district should issue general obligation bonds to fund renovation of its two middle schools, Wilson and Kirn.
The group needs to get at least 265 valid signatures – 25 percent of the votes cast in the September 2017 school election — to get the measure on the ballot but is aiming for 300, said Diane Ostrowski, chief communications officer.
“We’ll get more than 300, just to be safe,” said Barry Cleaveland, a member of the committee formed last week to collect signatures. “I’ve probably gotten 75 to 100 so far, so we may be close to getting them done.”
The group has to turn in the signatures to the school district by July 16 so school officials can verify that all of the signers are residents of the district, he said. If there are enough signatures, the school board will consider the issue during its July 24 meeting. The district must then turn the signatures and paperwork in to the Pottawattamie County Auditor’s Office no later than July 27, a spokeswoman at the auditor’s office said.
If all the requirements are met, the measure would be on the ballot for a special election on Sept. 11, 2018. This is one of the dates for special elections allowed under state law, since there are no regularly scheduled school elections during even-numbered years.
School officials had hoped the Iowa Legislature would extend the one-cent sales tax for schools — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education, currently set to expire in 2029 — so the district could bond against sales tax revenues for 20 years. But while the Iowa House overwhelmingly approved a bill during its 2018 session to extend the tax through 2049, the Senate’s version of the bill never made it to the floor.
“We were hopeful the SAVE would be extended in the last legislative session, but there’s no guarantee it will be extended,” Ostrowski said.
Using revenue from the tax, the school district renovated or rebuilt its 11 elementary schools and two high schools to meet educational standards and serve students in modern learning environments.
“In my first year as superintendent of schools, I have witnessed the significant pride our students, staff and parents have in our beautifully updated elementary and high school facilities,” Superintendent Vickie Murillo said. “The transformation of our middle schools is the natural next step to ensuring our students are being educated in learning environments that are safe, accessible and efficient and that provide the appropriate setting to enhance the engaging classroom experiences we are providing for our students.”
However, according to Murillo, there is not enough anticipated revenue from the sales tax to complete the renovations of the two middle schools. General obligation bonds are the only other source of revenue for renovation projects.
A 20-year general obligation bond in the amount of $37 million would add $31 of property tax annually on an average-priced home, or less than 10 cents per day.
The last time a bond election was held for the Council Bluffs Community School District was in 1996.