If that should come to pass, Murley will leave behind some unfinished business: the February 5 vote on the district's revenue purpose statement, which is shaping up as one of the odder local elections I've seen.
The ballot question seems to be orphaned. There appears to be no organized effort, for or against, this proposal. Not to have an ego, but usually when a campaign is going on in this town I hear about it. As an activist I'm sought after, as a journalist I'm looking for a story. I still have bruises on my arms from all the twisting to get me on the Yes side of the justice center.
A top-level administrative job like a superintendent inherently has a political dimension. I worked on two school funding elections - the 2003 bond and 2007 sales tax - with former superintendent Lane Plugge, and the man was everywhere. But Murley's only political effort seems to have been trying to recruit allies to run for the board in 2011.
You don't just put a question on a ballot and expect it to get approved. The case needs to be made. From the official side, there needs to be a clear explanation of what the proposal would do. There also needs to be an unofficial side to make the Vote Yes ask.
Since no one else is explaining this, I'm going to try.
First off, what little I've read about this is from conservatives trying to tag it as a "$100 million tax issue." A bit misleading. The 1 percent school sales tax is going to stay. It USED to be a local option. But after Linn and Johnson counties, the last two holdouts, approved it in February 2007, it became a statewide tax. That 100 million figure was/is an estimate of how much would be raised.
The district's Officially Neutral case (pdf) is:
Legally a new RPS has to be in place 60 days before the current RPS expires. ICCSD is beginning the 6th year of the original SILO RSP which only leaves four years remaining until this RPS expires. Without the community’s approval of a new RPS, the district must first use any sales tax collected under the SAVE program to reduce existing tax levies and until those are satisfied does not have the legal authority to plan to spend sales tax dollars on school buildings past 2017. This creates a significant barrier to “big picture” and “long-term” planning.Since the original revenue purpose statement doesn't expire till 2017, the district could have held off till this fall's school board election, and thus saved the cost of a special. But that would have put the question on the same ballot as three board members (Sarah Swisher, Tuyet Dorau, and Karla Cook)
Instead, here, the strategy seems to be "put a question on the ballot fast so it looks like we're doing something." Murley and the school board were in such a hurry that they initially looked at putting the issue on the ballot this past week, on December 4, but cooler heads prevailed.
So what, if anything, is getting changed in the revenue purpose statement itself?
During the 2007 campaign there was if not a promise a strong implication that a big pile of the pennies would be used to fund a third comprehensive high school in the northern part of the district i.e. North Liberty. That pressure was a factor in the 2009 and 2011 board elections.
But now the school board is under a counter-pressure from east siders - always a high-turnout constituency in local elections - who want new and/or improved elementary schools.
I don't have a horse in that race. My kids' school was the one that closed. But as a public service, I dissected the 2007 revenue purpose statement and the 2013 proposal to see what this vote would actually do.
Full unedited language is here for 2007 and 2013 but to cut to the chase I removed the introductory and concluding whereas stuff and compared the actual revenue purpose statement.
To my amazement, I can only detect a TWO WORD difference. The 2013 proposal adds two words, bolded, to the original statement.
To provide funds to build and furnish a new school building or buildings; to build and furnish addition(s) to school buildings in the District; to remodel, repair, expand, and improve the school buildings in the District; to purchase and improve grounds; to furnish and equip district facilities.I don't see the phrase "North Liberty High School" in any of that.
Monies may be used for emergency repairs to respond to natural disasters, such as fire, wind damage, flood; unanticipated mechanical, plumbing, structural, roof, electrical system failures; environmental remediation; or to respond to changes in demographics that require construction of additions, demolition or improvements to school buildings or new school buildings.
Monies may also be used for the purchase, lease or lease-purchase of buildings, technology, or equipment (including transportation and recreation equipment) as authorized by law, to implement energy conservation measures, sharing or rental of facilities, procuring or acquisition of libraries, or opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings.
Monies also may be used to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds; provide for supervision and instruction for recreational activities; or for community education purposes, including the operation of Family Resource Centers and all services provided at the Family Resource Centers; and any other authorized expenditures and purposes as permitted by law or hereafter authorized by law and designated by the Iowa City Community School District.
Monies may be used for the payment of principal and interest or retirement of general obligation bonds issued for school infrastructure purposes, loan agreements authorized by Iowa Code section 297.36, sales tax revenue bonds issued under Iowa Code section 423E.5, or property tax relief.
So what does this vote mean? It seems to mean whatever you want it to mean. The more I look at this, the more it looks like a finger to the wind. Put it out there, see what happens, if it fails adjust as needed.
It's a Direction Of The District question. But Murley and the Board aren't defining that direction, which gives any coalition of the disgruntled the chance to do so. Are the disgruntled numerous, or just disproportionately loud?
In any case, it looks like Direction Of The District is going to be defined in Omaha before it's defined at our polling places.