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FAQs

Q: Why is there a 2018 bond referendum when voters approved the PPEL in 2015?
The current plan for facilities is still in place from the 2015 PPEL election. During the past year, we have been involved in many community meetings to gain input and to find out if the current plan is the best plan or if there are other options that would better meet the needs of our students, school district, and community. Through those meetings, a different plan overwhelmingly rose to the top for several reasons. While the intentions behind the current plan are worthy from one perspective, renovating each elementary school as the dollars become available, there are several concerns and realities that have since come into the picture.

First, as the district receives approximately $3M each year through the PPEL tax, only $1.2M is available for renovations/additions and to do all of the necessary maintenance work across the district. Secondly, the costs of the renovation/additions are higher than originally anticipated. Therefore, the original plan for completion of all of the schools is greatly extended to 20+ years. Knowing these concerns, the district conducted additional research including building assessments, long term costs, educational adequacy, safety, building maintainability, and then compared this data to 21st century schools.

The completion of Karen Acres added to the concerns. We found that even after we spent $4.5M dollars for renovation/additions, this school scored “almost” satisfactory based on criteria for 21st century schools—due in large part to the fact that we needed to work within an existing footprint of a school that was originally built in 1964. We further found that it would ultimately cost more to maintain, remodel, and operate six elementary schools than to build two new schools and operate with a total of four elementary schools over the next 30 years. Also, if we did stay with the current facility plan, we still would not have 21st century schools that better meet the needs of today’s desired educational experiences.

The timing for this referendum is right due to the fact that we have four elementary schools (Jensen, Olmsted, Rolling Green and Valerius), that have served us well, but have already outlived their life expectancy. The last two referendums (2004 and 2007) allowed the construction of three 21st century schools (Webster, UMS and UHS). This referendum on February 6, 2018, completes the needs for the next 50 years. Currently, equity is a concern and we believe all students deserve quality learning environments throughout our entire district.

To be clear: when the PPEL vote passed in 2015 to support the current plan, tax rates were not raised. The passage of that vote gave the district permission to raise the PPEL rate while maintaining the overall tax rate. In order to do this, other funding tax rates were reduced. Again, in order to maintain the total tax rate of $17.75 per $1,000 of assessed property. There were no “new” or “additional” overall funds/taxes the district received through taxes.

Since the passage of the 2015 PPEL approval, the district has not only completed the Karen Acres project, we have also done the following items that are on the list: resurface the track, new lights at the ball field, drainage on both fields, and are currently taking bids for the sound cloud in the PAC. We continue to address items on the list as incoming money allows. Projects will continue to be addressed with PPEL dollars; that will not change. The referendum is for new construction that cannot be addressed with PPEL dollars as PPEL dollars are not enough.

With passage of the referendum, here’s how tax rates will be affected for homeowners:
Home valuation of $100,000 = $13.02 per year (not month but year)
Home valuation of $240,000= $33 per year
Home valuation of $400,000= $56 per year

Q: Why was the current plan selected over other options? Why is this the best plan?
Response: It aligns with our mission, vision, and values. This plan assures we can meet the goals within our strategic planning pillars. This plan is the best long-term answer to educational adequacy, cost-benefit ratio, life-cycle costs, and creates greater equity across all schools in our district. It also aligns best with stakeholder feedback received during multiple community meetings and from past surveys. This plan better assures consistent placement for students in the same family. It allows for greater balance of class sizes within the same grade levels across the district. It decreases the number of shared teachers across buildings. This plan gives students and staff the needed space for collaborative and experiential learning with enhanced technology. Both of the new elementary schools would be equipped with 21st century safety and security features including secure front entrances. Of all of the scenarios, the proposed plan was the top quantitative and qualitative performer. By optimizing our resources, it’s projected to free up 1.8 million dollars per year to repurpose in support of greater opportunities for students in grades K-12.

Q: What is a General Obligation Bond?
Response: General Obligation (G.O.) Bond proceeds, which requires the approval of 60% of district residents during a special election, can be used for the purchase of land, construction of new facilities and renovation/improvement of existing facilities, school buildings and structures, and grounds and athletic facilities. Similar to how a home mortgage is financed over a number of years, G.O. Bonds are financed over a 20-year term per series of bonds. One project may include multiple series of bonds that are issued over consecutive years during the construction phase; thus, more than 20-years of taxation and bond repayment may be captured by issuing bonds in multiple series over multiple years. G.O. Bonds are typically used to fund major one-time infrastructure improvements that the PPEL levy (approved by district residents in 2015), and/or Sales Tax revenues cannot fully fund.

Q: What about enrollment growth?
Response: By building two 4-section elementary schools, we would have additional classroom space available and can accommodate incremental growth. In addition, the plan accounts for added growth in the western side of the district at the elementary level or at the high school as needed; $3.5M of the referendum total is designated for either an addition at Webster elementary or a new section at the high school.

Q: Will the concerns with traffic flow at the elementary schools be addressed?
Response: We have existing issues/concerns with traffic flow at each of our schools. If we were to build new, we would develop plans to address traffic flow within the parameters of each site.

Q: Where will the students attend school while the schools are being built? How will we transition into the school buildings?
Response: As we would build one school at a time, we would determine the best approach for moving students to our other existing elementary schools. The move would be temporary and would be needed during construction. Upon completion of each new facility, we would plan to move into the new building. The district is currently looking at all possible options for the temporary placement of Olmsted students as the new elementary school on the Olmsted site is being constructed. Once the first building is completed (which will be on the Olmsted site), we could move all Valerius students and staff to the now vacant Jensen site until the new building on the Valerius site is completed. Our goal is for this transition period to be the least disruptive as possible for students and staff.

Q: What will happen to the empty buildings?
Response: There are multiple options for consideration such as the district could potentially repurpose the buildings. For example, we could create a preschool center or district Central Administration office. We could utilize the gymnasiums as maintenance facilities. Another option is to have the area rezoned as residential and remove the buildings entirely.

Q: What is the plan for the central office administration building?
Response: This is undecided. As students are our top priority, we’d want to support student needs first. The district would always have the option to continue leasing, purchase an existing building somewhere, or renovate an existing school.

Q: What is the added costs for transportation when going from 6 to 4 elementary schools?
Response: Transportation costs would be dependent upon bus routes among other factors and will need to be further explored to determine the most efficient transportation plans.

Q: Will the district still offer a year-round school?
Response: Once both new elementary schools are completed, the district would move the year-round school to Karen Acres as that school has been remodeled.

Q: Will district personnel lose their jobs?
Response: As it will take multiple years (6-8) to get us down to four (4) schools, we would lose staff by attrition for 90% of staff members. Very few people would lose their positions. Even then, we would do our best to find staff other positions in the district if possible as we highly value all of our team members.

Q: Would the building of the two elementary schools happen right away, within a year or two?
Response: It is likely that it would be at least 6-8 years before we had both elementary schools built and open for students. As of October 2017, our anticipated construction start dates include: spring 2019 UHS Fitness Center, summer 2019 elementary #1 (Olmsted site), and summer 2023 elementary #2 (Valerius site). Simultaneously continue completion of remaining PPEL projects at UMS and UHS.

Q: Will my child get lost in the shuffle of a bigger elementary school?
Response: A four section building (4 classrooms of each grade level) is considered to be an ideal size school. It can be efficiently staffed so that we can meet the needs of all students. As long as the district continues to follow the suggested guidelines for class size, students will see the same, or better, level of personalization as they currently do. In addition, it is our students, families, staff, teachers, and administrators who create the culture of any school and we know we’d continue creating school environments that are safe, secure, caring, welcoming, and exceptional for learning—no matter how big or small the building.

Q: Will students still be able to walk to school?
Response: Walking to school is a choice made by families. We will still have schools that are in close proximity to many neighborhoods. The district also recognizes that we may need a few additional crossing guards located at busy streets.

Q: How will Urbandale remain “unique” if we reduce the number of elementary neighborhood schools?
Response: Our “uniqueness” does not only stem from having small elementary schools. We also have this feeling because of how our school staff and community work closely together to keep the focus on our students. This will not change. We will remain the smallest geographical school district in Iowa; approximately 2 miles by 4 miles. In addition, being “land-locked” ensures that Urbandale can never grow into an ever-changing large district similar to neighboring districts. Our intimacy is ensured due to the boundaries of the school district. A fun fact: People can actually live in the Urbandale city limits but attend one of six different school districts, depending upon where they live. Our school district boundaries are much smaller than the city limits.

Q; Which school will my child attend? If I want my child to stay in the same school, will I have to move closer?

Response: The way we monitor and select school placement will remain similar to what we currently do. We place students based on their home address when possible. While placing students in their neighborhood school is not always possible, it is our goal. We then place the Open Enrollment students into the schools to balance class size. With fewer elementary schools, the need to place students in schools that are not in their neighborhood would be less likely to occur. The district also plans to continue offering a “year-round” school for families interested in this option. Rolling Green is the current year-round site and once both new elementary schools are open (which will be seven to eight years from now), the year-round site will change to Karen Acres which has been recently remodeled.

Q: Doesn’t the PPEL take care of maintaining our schools?
Response: While the revenues collected through the PPEL are greatly needed, they are not meant to be used for the construction of new schools as they simply do not raise enough funding capacity. PPEL dollars help us with maintenance, smaller renovations, and purchases. As we have annual maintenance needs, it would take roughly 20 years to be able to raise the necessary dollars to build one new elementary school if we only used PPEL funds.

Q: What is the lifecycle of a building and couldn’t we continue to extend it through repairs?
Response: The 40-to-50-year lifecycle of Jensen (1963), Olmsted (1952), Valerius (1963), and Rolling Green (1968) have all been exceeded. Some of these schools have had renovations or remodels done over the years but the structures and mechanical equipment in them have also met their intended life cycles. To a certain degree, renovations can be made but over the next 30 years it would cost more to maintain six elementary schools than to build two new schools; thus, we would maintain buildings that have exceeded their life expectancy while still not meeting the needs and desires of 21st century learning environments.

Q: What improvements were made when the last referendum was passed?
Response: With the passing of the last school referendum, Urbandale High School was built, Webster Elementary was built, and Urbandale Middle School received an addition and renovations.

Q: Who can vote for the referendum?
Response: Only registered voters who live within the boundaries of the Urbandale Community School District are eligible to vote.

Q: How many votes does it take for the referendum to pass and the district move forward with the proposed plan?
Response: A school referendum takes a “super majority” to pass which means 60% of voters must vote in favor of the proposed referendum. Anything less than 60% and the referendum fails.

Q: What is the plan if the referendum fails?
Response: The existing plan is to renovate/remodel and build additions to the remaining four elementary schools as the funds are available. At the current rate, this would take many years to complete all of the projects and unfortunately, we’d still have buildings and equipment that have exceeded their life cycles and do not meet the desired standards of 21st century schools. Trying to retrofit existing buildings to 21st century schools would end up costing more than building two new schools, would still not address our personnel and programming needs, and would still not address the lack of equity across the district. In addition, it would be highly unlikely that the district would be able to maintain and operate six elementary schools and would be faced with the need to close at least one school over the next 10-12 years.

Do you have a question that is not answered above? Please email Dena Soenke, Communications Manager, soenked@urbandaleschools.com

 

 


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