As you know, a few years ago the State of Iowa imposed a statewide one-cent sales tax on certain goods and services. The funds generated by this tax are then utilized by local school districts. Legislation requires each school district to vote on a Revenue Purpose Statement (RPS) related to this sales tax. The RPS is a document that needs to be somewhat broad to accommodate the changing needs of each district and it must be in place at least 60 days prior to the expiration of current authority. In the Newton Community School District, our RPS must be voted on in a special election Dec. 4. So what does this mean in our community and for our students?
Should the community vote to approve the RPS, two primary things will happen. First, the District will continue to pay current district debt with a large portion of the sales tax pennies. This practice has already allowed our local Board of Education to contain our property tax levy rate the past eight years. The total school levy has actually decreased three of the last four years. An approval of the RPS coupled with our current fund balances would allow the District to lower the levy again next spring.
Second, the funds generated by the one-cent sales tax will be utilized to provide expanded technology learning for our local students. We plan to provide iPad devices for every high school student next fall and we are already beginning to utilize iPads in some of our elementary schools. These contemporary tools will never replace strong teachers, but have been proven to improve student engagement in learning, improve student attendance, develop higher order thinking skills, and to allow students to communicate on a much broader basis. Our nearby neighbors Knoxville, Oskaloosa, and Grinnell-Newburg Schools are all reporting great successes with similar one-to-one technology initiatives and both school districts in Pella plan to roll out their versions next fall.
What if the community does not approve the RPS? The District will continue to receive the funds, but legislation specifically dictates their use. The list in rank order includes: Debt Service Levy, Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, and the payment of principal and interest on any Sales Tax Revenue Bonds. Our Sales Tax Revenue Bonds have already been paid off with sales tax funds, so that’s off the table. Therefore the sales tax funds could only be used to pay down district Debt Service and the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. This would then diminish the need for property tax dollars in these two areas. However, it would expand the need for property tax dollars in other parts of the school budget to backfill the loss in funding currently covering several educational program expenses. For example, the Instructional Support Levy would then be targeted for a possible increase. A failed RPS would also eliminate the District’s ability to provide the student learning technology mentioned earlier.
If you have any questions about the special election or about school finances in general, please feel free to contact our School Business Office. Again, the special election will be held Tuesday, Dec. 4. Polls will be open from Noon to 8 p.m. at the Jasper County Community Center, 2401 First Avenue East. I encourage you to please turn out and vote on this important issue.
Red Pride Marches On!