Sheldon voters to decide SAVE fund update

Sheldon School District Board of Education vice president Susan Rensink, superintendent Cory Myer and board member Steve Waldstein gather in the high school art room during a tour of the building at last Wednesday’s board meeting. Facility updates and maintenance needs were the main topics discussed during the tour.

SHELDON—The Sheldon School District Board of Education is asking voters to decide in November if the district should update its revenue purpose statement for how it uses its Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) money.

The board unanimously approved a resolution during its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 8, that will put that question on the ballot for the Sheldon school board elections on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

If voters approve the measure by a simple majority, it would not increase the district’s property taxes or sales taxes; instead, it would give the district greater discretion in how it uses its SAVE funding.

The SAVE funding stream also is known as the 1-cent local option sales and services tax the state distributes to all public school districts according to how many pupils they have. The Sheldon public schools received about $1.1 million in SAVE funding each year.

The money can be used for infrastructure projects such as building renovations, heating and cooling systems, transportation, safety and security management and technology purchases. It also can be used to pay down outstanding debt, such as general obligation bonds, and lower a district’s property tax rate.

Superintendent Cory Myer spoke with the board members about why the district would want to update the revenue purpose statement.

The first reason is that the district is set to fully pay off general obligation bonds it owes on a previous facility project in June 2022. The district has put about $500,000 of its yearly SAVE funds toward paying off those bonds, which means that amount would be freed up once the debt is gone.

“The hope would be we could use that for future projects, but the way it’s currently written in the revenue purpose statement is you have to use that full amount to pay down the tax rate,” Myer said.

“So you would take that money as a school, and we would use it to lower the property tax rate instead of spending it on things that we want to spend it on, like technology, transportation, facilities, those types of things.”

He said keeping a low property tax rate is an important goal, but the district must also maintain its facility, transportation and technology needs. Having the extra money from the SAVE fund would thereby give the district an additional spending avenue to pay for such needs.

Another reason Myer gave for why the district would update its revenue purpose statement is because the Iowa Legislature in 2019 extended the time frame in which the state would use sales taxes for SAVE. The SAVE funding previously was set to expire Dec. 31, 2029, and the state sales tax rate was set to drop from 6 percent to 5 percent on Jan. 1, 2030. Each were extended through Jan. 1, 2050.

“We just want to update with what legislation has done and give us access to those funds through 2050,” Myer said.

He also spoke of expenses the district has taken on in recent years it could not have foreseen when the revenue purpose statement was last updated in 2013, such as one-to-one technology purchases and expenditures made during the coronavirus pandemic.

Myer also pointed out transportation needs in light of growing enrollment, particularly at East Elementary. He said there are more students there this academic year compared to last and that buses are getting packed.

“We’re just transporting more kids. We need to meet those transportation needs,” Myer said.

He also referenced potential facility maintenance work that may need to be done down the road, particularly at the high school. Earlier in the meeting, the school board members toured the building and were informed of various examples of aging infrastructure.

Board vice president Susan Rensink asked if district voters still would need to approve a large building project down the road even if more SAVE dollars would be freed up for use.

Myer said voters would need to do so if the project would be funded through a general obligation bond, since that would impact property taxes. If the project were small enough to borrow against SAVE dollars, it would require public hearings and a school board vote since property taxes would not be affected.

Board member Steve Waldstein asked if SAVE money could be used for the district’s turf field project. Myer said there are limitations to using SAVE money for athletic facilities; to do so, it would require an additional community vote.

“This cannot be used for the turf nor do we need it to be used for the turf because we have the funds already to pay for our portion of that project,” Myer said.

Waldstein said he supported the move to put the revenue purpose statement issue on the November ballot but urged the district to be as transparent about the matter as possible so voters are correctly informed about the intent of the ballot measure.

Myer agreed and suggested the school district could hold informational public meetings for people to learn more about the proposed purpose statement change and ask questions about it.

He also said if the measure fails in November, the district would not be able to put it up for election again until the November election in 2022.