Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WELLMAN — Mid-Prairie school board officials said they were open to a 60 cent tax increase in the next bond election, part of an effort to fund a swath of new facilities the district hopes to construct over the next several years. The wording approved for a bond referendum in March would, if passed, raise the district’s property tax rate to $3.30 per $1,000.
“As a fiscal conservative person, to raise taxes is going against a lot of where I’m at,” Board President Jeremy Pickard said. “But I think in this day and age, if we want things like an auditorium, we want things like a new gymnasium … I think it’s not possible to do all the things we want to do and keep taxes level.”
Board Member Jake Snider agreed, saying the district needed to think ahead, with a tax increase now being easier to pass thanks to the popular facility projects it would come with.
“If you want to be realistic, let’s say we manage to squeeze everything into this budget, what happens in five or 10 years when we need something, that’s my big concern,” he said. “There’s nowhere to go if we need more classroom space, which we know we’re going to … so then how do we get that money that would be just maxed out at $2.70? We’d have to go back to them and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have a lot of cool things going on like this package does, but we need to raise taxes.’”
Board Member Gabrielle Frederick said the 60 cent raise would be easily worth it.
“It’s just going to take communication, community buy-in,” she said. “As long as we’ve got folks who are willing to do that and step up and look what this can do for our kids. We need people to realize this is a no-brainer, we’ve got to do it.”
The discussion came on the heels of a show of support for a $13 million auditorium project from members of the district’s fine art boosters, one of many long-requested projects in an over $37 million facility plan, which includes new classrooms, expanded parking lots, and several extracurricular investments.
Mid-Prairie Fine Arts Boosters President Stacie Woodside said the 600-seat auditorium much-needed addition.
“An auditorium would have multiple benefits to the community in terms of dance recitals and other concerts and family reunions and gatherings, really the possibilities are endless,” she said. “We’re really, really excited about what this could bring to our communities.”
Vocal music teacher Collette McClellen said the auditorium would address a pressing lack of space for the school’s music departments.
“I don’t even rehearse in the choir room, it’s simply too small, and then we run into storage issues, everything that we need for performances and day-to-day use is just shoved into the choir room,” she said. “I know it’s a big-ticket item, I know that we take up a lot of room, we know that we’re loud … but we literally can’t grow our programs because our rooms are too small. We can’t have more kids in our rooms.”
Board members said some, though not nearly all of the projects, could be completed with the district’s roughly $11 million from sales tax revenue.
“The gym with the restrooms addition, the four classrooms at the middle school, the East Elementary and the FCS would come to just over $11 million,” said Board Vice President Marianne Schlabach. “The middle school really needs it, so does East.”
Pickard said those items could still be funded with the bond money to maximize community buy-in, but maintained a commitment to them whether the bond succeeded at the ballot box or not.
“I think you could put them all in one, then if the bond doesn’t pass, you kick it,” he said. “I’m OK putting it on the bond, but write it down: we’re going to commit to doing something for the middle school.”