With the state of Iowa's budget being slashed left and right, many of the state's school districts are feeling the pinch left by decreased state aid.
Others have ambitious goals, like the new elementary school and performance auditorium on the wish list for Storm Lake Community Schools, with few options to fund them.
To help ease the financial burden many districts are experiencing, the state has made a School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) sales tax available to counties to bring to a vote.
The tax would place an additional one percent on all sales-taxed items. If passed, the tax would be implemented for a 10-year period. As of July 1, 2003, 42 Iowa counties had passed the SILO, with more pending the vote.
In order for the issue to be brought to a vote in Buena Vista County, a resolution has to be passed by the county's school boards requesting that the issue be presented to voters.
If the issue is brought to a vote, each school district in the county is to submit a revenue purpose statement indicating the specific purpose for which the SILO tax funds will be used. A copy of that statement will then be made available for public inspection, be posted at the polling places and published in a newspaper in the school's district.
Two bills in the Iowa legislature this year have dealt with the SILO tax. Senate File 445 sets forth the long-term policy for the SILO. It requires that counties who pass the local option tax vote to participate in a statewide pool and allows for state funds in addition to above-average sales revenues to supplement counties below the statewide average.
House File 683, the Iowa Values Fund, which was passed by the House and Senate on June 4, 2003, provides $150 million over 10 years as state funding for equity.
According to Storm Lake superintendent Bill Kruse, the Storm Lake School District could potentially gain $400-$575 per student or anywhere between $800,000 and $1.3 million a year if the tax is put in place.
Kruse said the district would look at using the money to fund a new K-4 elementary building and theater/performing arts center and to reduce property taxes. If the SILO tax were not to be enacted, Kruse says the likelihood of those new buildings being constructed wouldn't be very high.
"(The likelihood) is not very good," Kruse said. "The only way we would be able to do it would be through another property tax bond issue and that would take 60 percent of the vote. We still have until 2010 to pay off the bond for the middle school, so the chances of another bond passing is very remote."
SILO tax funds can be spent for construction, reconstruction, repair and demolition purposes or to pay off existing or newly issued bonds. Funds may be delegated to offset a Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) tax, used to purchase any PPEL purpose such as equipment, buses and computers or for a Public Recreation Levy purpose (adult education, playgrounds, etc.)
As the largest school district in Buena Vista county, with more than half of the county's students, the Storm Lake School District could draft a resolution by itself to bring the SILO tax to a vote, but Kruse says his school board won't do that without the support of the other schools in the county.
Those other schools that could serve to profit from the SILO tax include Alta, Newell-Fonda, Albert City-Truesdale and Sioux Central. Laurens-Marathon could also receive funding as a portion of the district lies in BV county.
The potential election would take place at a site in each of those districts, but the vote requires only a simple majority to pass.
Right now the issue seems to be at a stand-still until more information about the tax can be discussed.
"There have been talks between the districts about the tax, but no formal meeting has taken place yet," Kruse said. "As far as Storm Lake is concerned, we want to get parents involved in the conversation now."
Though the process to bring the SILO to a vote is just beginning, Kruse is optimistic about the potential of the tax.
"The feeling right now seems to be a consensus (in favor of the tax) for all of the county schools," he said. "Not any one district seems to be fighting it."
Kruse said there is a strong movement right now to get the issue to vote before the end of the year. At the August 20 Storm Lake School Board meeting, he encouraged board members to seek out more information on the issue so they can begin actively pursuing the issue.