JANESVILLE — Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots on an $8.6 million bond issue that would fund expansion and upgrades to Janesville Consolidated School.
Classrooms and a new competition gymnasium would be added and a number of maintenance issues addressed, among other improvements. Officials say the expansion is needed due to enrollment growth that’s expected to continue. They also believe the existing gym is no longer adequate for athletics.
This is the school district’s third attempt at funding the work after two 2016 votes fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage.
JANESVILLE — An $8.6 million plan to renovate and expand Janesville Consolidated School will be on the ballot Feb. 6.
A hike in the property tax rate of up to $4.05 per $1,000 of taxable value would repay the general obligation bonds over 20 years. While the bond amount and the tax rate increase are higher than in the last two referendums, district officials plan to reduce other tax levies so the overall impact on property owners is about equal to those past proposals.
“Our intention, or my intention, is to keep the property tax ask as low as we possibly can while still maintaining the school district and its needs,” said Superintendent B.J. Meaney.
Officials are pledging to keep the net increase at $2.71 per $1,000 of taxable value. That would be a rise from $11.42 to $14.13 per $1,000 of taxable value when the new fiscal year starts July 1. For the owner of a $100,000 home, the annual property tax increase would total $153.05.
The Janesville group Citizens Opposed to Higher Property Taxes issued a statement calling on district residents to vote against the bond issue, singling out the proposed gym and preschool classroom additions for criticism.
“As with any bond issue, voters are not given an a la carte menu choice,” Brian Schmidt, the group’s spokesman, said in an email to The Courier. “Voters are given an option to vote yes if they are for every aspect of the ballot. If they are opposed to any part of it, they should vote no.”
Voters will be deciding whether to approve two ballot questions: the bond issue and the tax levy. “A ‘yes’ vote is a ‘yes’ to both questions and anything else is a ‘no’ vote,” said Meaney.
Scott Schaefer was among about 100 people who participated in recent open houses that gave residents a chance to tour the school and see the classroom and gym space. School staff showed his group the room the band is in danger of outgrowing next year, the Spanish and health class space that has been carved out of the weight room and how they are accommodating elementary grade levels that have grown to two sections.
“I’m thinking they’re lacking for space, so something needs to be done,” Schaefer said. He added that “I don’t really have a problem with” the proposed increase in taxes.
“We’ve gone from 268 students to 382 students in less than 10 years,” said Meaney, an increase of 40 percent. “I know we’ll be up again next year. In fact, I’d expect us to be up around 400 for next school year.”
To deal with the growth, three new classrooms would be added in both the high school and middle school areas. The band room would be expanded. Four elementary classrooms would be added along with two preschool classrooms.
A new corridor and varsity locker rooms would be part of the gym addition. Around the new preschool rooms, an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access to the cafeteria would be created. Two small elementary classrooms would be renovated into restrooms.
Outside air exchangers would be added for the middle school while aging boilers and roofs over the elementary and gym areas would be replaced. New parking would be added west of the football field.
The group opposing the bond issue suggested in its statement parents should pay more for the preschool services. “The school would then have the funds to improve the optional preschool program, making it truly self-sufficient,” it reads.
Meaney noted that program operates with a combination of parent fees and state funding. “We certainly try to run a preschool program that’s break-even,” he said.
Regarding a new gym, the statement asks, “Why haven’t the boosters raised the funds to pay for an improved facility? Charge appropriate entrance fees, hold fundraisers and talk to potential donors that could have their names on the facility.”
Meaney expressed concerns with safety in the gym because the playing court is within three and four feet of the bleachers and cinder block walls. “In my opinion, it’s not a matter of if someone gets hurt in our gym, it’s when.” He noted, as well, the gym is for more than sports with physical education classes, concerts and community events held there.
Tax rate reductions to offset the proposed increase would be done through the budgeting process in the coming months.
A reductions of $1.34 in two tax rates that are part of the district’s overall levy is planned for the next four years. The management levy rate would drop to zero from $1.11 per $1,000 of taxable value currently. The voter-approved physical plant and equipment levy, which pays for facility maintenance needs and equipment replacement, would drop from $1.34 to $1.11 per $1,000 of taxable value.
In 2022, the PPEL expires and district officials do not plan on asking voters to extend it for another 10 years. That would then cover the entire $1.34 planned reduction in the net tax rate increase. As a result, the tax rate would go back up to $1.11 for the management levy.
Meaney said the management levy covers costs such as liability insurance and early retirement payouts. “We believe that we have enough to cover our expenses for the next couple of years barring anything catastrophic,” he noted. “In the last six to eight years, we’ve had some very large expenditures coming from that account” which have now decreased.
As far as expenses paid for with the physical plant and equipment levy, the district will still have the board-approved PPEL of 33 cents per $1,000 of taxable value.
“We really have to sharpen the pencils, so to speak, to make sure we can cover all the expenses,” said Meaney. “But we believe that we can do it without a voter-approved PPEL.”
District residents can vote at the Riviera Roose Community Center from noon to 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Absentee ballots must be returned to the Bremer County auditor’s office in Waverly before polls close or be postmarked by midnight Monday if mailed in.