As the district has received questions regarding recent misinformation, we’d like to ensure all district residents have access to accurate information. We want you to have the facts in order to make an informed decision on election day. If you have any questions about information you have heard, please reach out to Dena Soenke, Communications Manager, for confirmation. Be sure to head to the polls on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.
1. Is the proposed plan a recommendation from district administration?
No, the proposed plan being considered in the 2018 Bond Referendum was not developed by district administration. Throughout the 2016–17 school year, students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members participated in numerous facility planning meetings in order to gain a better understanding of how district facilities are performing in terms of educational adequacy, life-cycle costs, and cost/benefit analysis. This data, in combination with feedback received through online surveys and meetings, provided the Citizens Leadership Committee (CLC) a 360-degree view of district facilities in order to create a comprehensive facility plan recommendation to the Urbandale CSD School Board. The CLC consisted of 33 community members who reviewed 11 possible options for our facilities. The proposed plan continually outperformed all others and the CLC determined it was the best plan for supporting students now and in the future.
2. Will class sizes increase with the proposed plan? (Increasing overall average?)
Currently, our average elementary class size is 22 students and our projected average elementary class size over the next eight years is 23 students. Although our average elementary class size will stay very similar, class sizes will be more evenly distributed across elementary schools. So instead of one school having a class size of 16 students, while another school at the same grade level has a class size of 26 students, all elementary schools would have more consistent class sizes. This benefits all K-12 students as more opportunities can be provided for all elementary, middle, and high school students when staffing at the elementary level is more consistent and efficient.
3. Will there be the same number of classrooms or more classrooms with the proposed plan?
The number of sections at any given elementary grade level is always driven by enrollment. We expect that elementary enrollment will decline slightly for the next two to three years, and then should return to an increasing trend four to ten years out. In the next two to three years we may have enrollment that creates a need for 76 to 77 sections (compared to 79 K-5 sections now). That has nothing to do with the referendum, it is simply a function of having over 300 fifth graders moving to the middle school and bringing in 275-280 kindergartners. We project that the two new four-section buildings will serve 21 to 24 students in each room. The number of sections will be dependent on several variables including enrollment numbers and board-approved class sizes. If we can maintain our board-approved class sizes within three-sections instead of four, then we would consider that option during our planning process for each school year. As always, we will continue to use enrollment numbers to determine general education classroom teacher staffing levels.
4. How will the Olmsted or Valerius sites be able to handle 750 students?
It’s important to note that Webster Elementary currently has the highest number of students enrolled at the elementary level with a total of 430 students. Based on current projections over the next eight years, the two new four-section elementary schools would reach an enrollment level of 570 students per building. Our enrollment numbers have never reached 750 students in an elementary building.
The two new four-section elementary schools would be built on the existing Olmsted and Valerius sites, which indeed are smaller than the Webster Elementary site. This is why the preliminary designs are two-story buildings as we would accommodate space limitations by building up instead of out. For example, the new four-section two-story elementary school on the Olmsted site would be approx. 100,000 sq ft. The Webster Elementary site is a one-story building at approx. 93,000 sq ft. Much consideration is being given to the safe entrance and exit of all students, staff, and families throughout the school day, and for community members during off-school hours as gymnasiums would be available for use by community organizations.
5. Will this bond max out the district if passed? Will the length of maturity of this bond limit the district’s ability to change in the future?
The $4.05 PPEL tax levy is maxed out. That’s how school districts are able to even consider building new schools. This district has done that in the past as well. But as home valuations increase, which they will (only one year in the past 20, have they decreased), the district has two options: 1) continue to stay on the bond payment schedule which will decrease the $4.05 levy as the property valuations increase, or 2) pay off the debt services ahead of schedule.
So by leaving the levy at $4.05, and using the surplus to pay off the bonds early, (shortening the life of the bonds) we can ensure that future bonds can be issued as soon as possible. Both options are good strategies and one is not any stronger than the other; just different philosophies.
In our particular situation, we are currently refinancing and selling off some of our bonds so we can save over $6M. We also know that the bonds that began in 2005 will be going off the books a couple of years before we complete the current proposed projects so those liabilities will be off the books as well.
Regarding the tax increase: While it will take $0.75 per $1,000 of taxable valuation to complete the proposed projects (two new schools and a fitness center) the district will make 2/3 of that money as an internal adjustment (by reducing the general fund tax rate by $0.50 and then increasing the debt service budget by that $0.50). It will require a tax increase of just under $0.25 per $1,000 of taxable valuation which means our school district tax levy will increase from $17.75 to $17.99 per $1,000 of taxable valuation.
The School Bond Special Election will take place on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.
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