Making the case

The Fort Dodge Community School District board held a forum at Friendship Haven Monday to address the upcoming special election on the physical plant and equipment levy.

The levy provides funds for school district building maintenance, transportation, security and technology. A special election measure in December to renew the 67-cent levy for another 10-year term and raise it another 67 cents to its maximum $1.67 was rejected in a 726-584 vote.

The board hopes with greater communication about the levy and its intentions, the community will support the measure this time. Otherwise, the district will lose two-thirds of its funds for buildings.

“We at the district have a challenge,” Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said Monday. “If we take a look at what we really need to maintain and be proactive with our buildings, it’s almost $4 million a year to go in and maintain the equipment we have in our school district.”

The current levy of $1, which includes a 33-cent board-approved levy, currently generates less than $900,000 for the district. This levy expires July 2014.

“If we have a $4 million need and not even $1 million coming in, you can see how your school board and school district, even well before I got here, had to prioritize their needs and try to take care of their facilities with less than enough money,” Van Zyl said. “What happens when that takes place is sooner or later, those things that were No. 1 priority, you get those taken care of, but you add to those list of needs and we never have the ability to get caught up.”

An example of this is the new middle school under construction, Van Zyl said. Phillips and Fair Oaks middle schools required more than $50 million in renovations. Using its state 1-cent sales tax option for the next 20 years, and not PPEL, paid for the new building.

“It is pretty easy to see that sooner or later when you don’t have enough funds to maintain buildings through PPEL, it’s awfully hard to keep them in the right shape,” he said. “Otherwise, we end up having to replace the whole facility.”

Not only does the 67-cent levy need to be renewed, an increase to the maximum $1.67 is needed to keep up with rising costs and to keep Fort Dodge’s school buildings maintained, Stuart Cochrane, FDCSD board president, said.

“This $4 million is not going to go away,” he said. “Those repairs are still going to be there. Every building is still going to have the same need whether we pass this levy or not. The reality is, if the levy doesn’t pass, all of those needs are going to fall on our general fund. And since 2010, our general funds are down.”

Ervin Claude, of Fort Dodge, asked, “Wouldn’t you be better off taking what you got and trying to figure out the rest of it versus being greedy and asking for double, and getting nothing and then having to go to the general fund?”

“We didn’t feel it was the responsible thing to do. We didn’t think we were doing the public justice by asking for $1 and $900,000 when we had $4 million in need,” Cochrane responded.

Cochrane added that the law does not allow the district to ask for “one or the other” on the ballot, and the board chose to ask for an increase.

Ron Kitterman, former Friendship Haven chaplain, encouraged others to vote yes for renewing and increasing the levy.

“Our school system is really there for us,” he said. “These kids that we’re trying to educate today are the ones that are going to be providing the goods and services for us, and I have a real strong belief that, particularly those of us who are trying to live off fixed income or are retired, need to seriously consider supporting this, because it’s going to impact us down the road.”

The special election will be held Feb. 5. Absentee ballots are available at the Webster County Auditor’s Office, 701 Central Ave.