Tuesday, April 7, members of the Prescott and Creston communities will have the opportunity to vote on the future of their school districts. A special election will be held with two items on the official ballot. The first item will be a “yes” or “no” vote on the consolidation and merger of the two school districts. The second item will involve what is called a “Revenue Purpose Statement.”
Every Iowa school district must have a voter-approved revenue purpose statement. Both Prescott and Creston Schools currently have identical statements in place. If the voters approve the merger of the districts, a new district will therefore be created, thus the need for a fresh revenue purpose statement. The statement includes several items associated with the expenditure of school revenues generated by the local option sales tax or penny sales tax for facilities and equipment. The list includes such things as property tax relief, facility repairs or upgrades, energy conservation measures, technology, playgrounds and emergency facility repairs.
If the schools consolidate, the Creston School facilities will be utilized as they are today and with space for students from Prescott. Students will no longer attend classes at the Prescott School site. Alternatives for Prescott’s 1914 building, the newer west building, and the gym continue to be considered by the Prescott Board. There are currently no plans to construct a new school building in Creston because there is no immediate need to do so.
Of course our local students and their learning are the top priorities of our schools, but how will a consolidation impact property tax rates? On the Creston side, projections indicate that the school’s portion of the property tax levy may decrease by as much as 72 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation if the vote should pass.
On the Prescott side, due to the agreement that the Prescott patrons will not be held responsible for past Creston debt, the school portion of the levy would increase gradually over a four year period by $2.42 per $1,000 taxable valuation. This increase begins at a rate of 25 percent in the first year (approximately 61 cents), 50 percent in year No. 2 (approx. $1.21), 75 percent in year No. 3 (approx. $1.82), and 100 percent in year No. 4 ($2.42). Again, these are only projections. The total school portion of the property tax levy for the Prescott property owners would then be a projected $11.99 or roughly $12.00. This represents a total of the 2014-2015 levy rate of $9.57 plus the projected increase of $2.42 after the four-year transition.
Had the boards agreed to have Prescott assume Creston debt, the Prescott levy rate would have increased $4.50 per $1,000 taxable valuation. This will not occur if the consolidation passes. If the vote fails and the Prescott District dissolves, the property that is then assigned to the Creston District will be accompanied by the projected $4.50 increase in the first year.
What else will happen if the vote fails in either district? If this should happen, the Creston Schools move forward as usual. However, the superintendent/principal, business manager, and transportation director currently being shared between the two districts will revert back to their Creston positions. Therefore Prescott will need to locate and hire qualified people for those spots.
There is also a question about how long the Iowa Department of Education may allow Prescott to stay open. Prescott is now the smallest school district in the state by student enrollment. If the vote fails, the Iowa Dept. of Education will assign representatives to complete a Phase 2 site visit and report. This site visit is similar to those all schools experience once every five years, but the investigations are much more thorough and harsh. The resulting report will then be submitted to the State Board of Education for consideration. At that time the State Board will determine the future of the district.
Prescott has explored arrangements with other neighboring districts over many years and not one discussion has germinated and grown into an arrangement that would benefit both districts involved until now. In the past two years while serious talks at open, public meetings have proceeded between Prescott and Creston school officials, no other neighboring district has contacted Prescott or shown any interest in similar possible agreements.
While tax levy rates, property, and politics all come into play, our local girls and boys and their learning are what should be our top priorities. Our elected board members in Prescott and Creston have remained focused on what will be best for kids now and in the future. Please keep in mind that families may open-enroll their children to any district they choose no matter what happens with this decision.
The Prescott Community School District was established in 1914, so the district and still-standing, main school building are 100 years old. It is sad to think about the potential loss of such a proud school district, but we all understand how our local economy and population have changed. Funding is not the challenge at Prescott. Our Prescott District has simply run out of enough students to operate a school district.
On the other hand, the Creston District is small enough to assure all students are well-known, yet large enough to offer a broad range of fine learning opportunities. The facilities are top-notch. Staff members are caring, qualified, and skilled. Instruction and learning are outstanding and improving every day.
This special election represents an opportunity, an alternative, and a public choice. This election will directly impact our children and our local communities. Please exercise your right to vote on Tuesday, April 7.