As the district, School Board, and community-based Facilities Advisory Committee continues along the process of creating a vision for the future of school facilities in West Branch, it is natural to wonder how we plan to pay for proposed improvements.
School district funding is a complicated issue. While generally it is considered wise to save money for a rainy day – or in this case a large expense – school districts are not legally allowed to stockpile large savings accounts. As a protection for tax payers, they are encouraged by law to operate in such a way that they spend all that they bring in each year. This general fund is used to pay salaries and buy supplies. Think of it like a checking account for day-to-day expenses.
Other funding streams include PERL, which can only be used for recreation and playground projects; PPEL, which can be used to improve ground and buildings; and the 1-cent sales tax (SAVE), which can be used for capital projects. As we look at ways to finance our facilities project, we try to use funding sources – SAVE and PPEL — that have the least amount of impact on property taxes for our community. It is possible to use these funds for large-scale building projects. However, doing so depletes those funds and doesn’t allow for a cushion should the district need to fix a broken window or replace a piece of equipment, for example. That is why large-scale projects tend to be funded by voter-approved general obligation bond.
The West Branch Facilities Advisory Committee has sent a clear message that it’s important that the district do what it can to keep property tax rates down while making the facilities improvements they have identified as priorities for our district. While the committee is in the process of finalizing its recommendation for the School Board and a final project cost and tax levy are yet to be determined, they have arrived at a consensus that multiple funds will be used to support the project. This will likely be a general obligation bond, supplemented by SAVE and PPEL dollars to keep the overall property tax impact as low as possible.