With just over eight weeks until the election that will decide the fate of $18 million in high school renovation and auditorium construction projects, Storm Lake Schools leaders say they will focus on informing, not convincing, voters.
"We have a short period to work with, and that's probably not a bad thing," reflects Superintendent of Schools Carl Turner. "With Obama and Romney people have been through a long election campaign already. Our entire focus will be to get the information out there so people can make an informed decision, and then let them decide. This will not be a hard-sale type campaign. I've always figured that if people have the facts they will either believe in it or they won't."
On December 4, voters in the school district will go to the polls with three issues to decide. All will have to pass by simple majority for the renovation and auditorium to be done:
1. Changing the revenue purpose statement for local option sales tax (formerly known as SILO and now Secure and Advanced Vision for Education - SAVE) so that the funds collected through 2029 can be used for facilities and projects. This penny tax is collected regardless and the vote involves only how it is used.
2. Increasing the Physical Plant and Equipment (PPEL) Levy rate from 17 cents per thousand of property valuation to $1.34 through 2016, the current length of the program.
3. Extending the PPEL levy at the same rate for an additional ten years, through 2026.
After months of planning, things will begin to happen rapidly.
On Monday, the auditorium committee will be called back together to meet with the school board for a public session.
"We need to talk about where we've been since the auditorium committee stopped meeting and where we are going from here," Turner said.
The school board will interview potential architects October 16 and 17. Another school board meeting will be planned for October 18 with a public hearing on the projects. If all goes as planned, the district would on the following day file its request to hold an election. Forty-six days are required between the filing and the election day, providing just enough time for the December 4th voting day. A law firm has already been contacted to formally prepare the ballot statements.
"Between October 19 and December 4, we will be working very hard to get all the information out to the people," Turner said. "Hopefully we will have a good turnout and everyone will have a good understanding of what we are trying to do, and that all of the money raised from the three ballot measures go to either renovating the school or building the performance auditorium."
So far, the superintendent feels, the public seems pretty positive.
"Most of what I hear people saying is that they do believe something needs to be done at the high school, and that they do feel an auditorium for Storm Lake is a need."
As district leaders plan to give presentations to various groups heading up to the vote, it will be important to show people exactly how the projects would impact people's wallets, he said.
"The tax levy isn't applied to the market value of your home - after the rollbacks, it would be based on about 54 percent of the actual value. We will have spread sheets available so that people can see the actual impact on their tax, for different levels of homes as well as commercial and farmland property," Turner said. While taxes would increase, Turner noted that with a healthy cut in taxation made this year, even if the vote would be approved, taxes would not rise back to the level they were at before this year.
"That's the message I'm going to tell. We will do our very best to show how the money would be used to make the school a better place for our students."
It will not be an easy process.
"We have a lot of work to do. Between where the projects are now and where they need to be, there's a big gap," Turner admits.
The district has challenged the architectural design firm that originally planned the projects at an estimated $32 million to cut them down to the $18 million the district expects to have available if the public votes pass. It is to be done by October 16-17, when the district plans to interview the firm and others that may be interested in carrying the development forward.
Turner compares the process to a smorgasbord. The firm is determining the costs of various elements of the projects piece by piece, then the district will have to choose what it wants to leave in, and what to take out.
District representatives will be visiting different communities in the state where auditoriums have been successfully developed in the price range the district is looking at.
"Certainly a $9.5 million auditorium would have been nice to have, but we know that some places have managed to build for $4-5 million and very nice auditoriums to show for it," Turner said.
A volunteer group is forming that hopes to help out by raising some private funds toward the auditorium. If that happens, the district would be able to add some extras and build a somewhat nicer facility, school board members are saying.