FAIRFIELD – Voters in the Fairfield Community School District approved a ballot measure on the district’s revenue purpose statement during a special election Tuesday.
The unofficial results from the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office show 530 votes for “yes” and 415 votes for “no.” The measure was popular in the city of Fairfield, where yes votes outnumbered no votes 444 to 244, but unpopular in the three smaller precincts where the no votes won 59-13 in Liberty Township, by that same tally of 59-13 in Lockridge Township and 44-13 in Penn Township. Absentee ballots swung 47-9 in favor of the measure.
The passage of the revenue purpose statement means the district will be able to take advantage of SAVE funds (Secure an Advanced Vision for Education) that come from the state penny sales tax. The funds go toward facilities, technology, transportation and equipment needs.
The Iowa Legislature decreed that school districts can only use the money in the SAVE fund through 2031. In 2019, the Legislature revised the law, extending the use of SAVE funds to the year 2051, but required districts to allow the public to vote on whether to extend the revenue purpose statement.
Had the vote failed, the district would have redirected the funds it got from the state to relieve tax levies in accordance with state law, starting with bond levies, then the Physical Plant and Equipment levy, the Public Educational and Recreation Levy, and other levies.
Upon learning of the results of Tuesday’s election, the Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors released a statement expressing gratitude to the voters for passing the measure.
“Tuesday’s vote was about our community’s support for the long-term success of the school system, and we believe that is something that our community does value,” the board stated. “The passage of this revenue purpose statement shows that our community is extremely engaged and passionate about the future of our school system.”
The board said that long-term planning is essential for efficient use of taxpayer dollars, and that the passage of the statement will allow that planning to continue.
“The work ahead is to unify our community’s vision for our current students’ success as well as the vision for our next generation of students,” said the board.
Fairfield School Superintendent Laurie Noll said SAVE funds allow the district to invest in energy efficiency upgrades to lower utility bills, and invest in safety features such as secure entrances that “protect staff and students.” She said Fairfield residents pay a fairly low school property tax of $11.81 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which puts them at No. 247 out of 327 school districts in the state for property taxes, meaning most Iowa residents pay more in taxes.
“The Fairfield school board and staff agree that community involvement is important, and we are happy that so many individuals turned out to vote,” Noll said. “Please note that before any action to obligate funds long-term, the board is required to have a public hearing to gather feedback and input.”
Local politicians and candidates sounded off on the measure before voters went to the polls. Iowa Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) urged residents to vote down the measure, saying in an email to supporters that he wanted a revenue purpose statement to specifically mention “outdoor organic greenhouses, classrooms immersed in nature,” and a few other things, and that the district could be frugal by allocating SAVE funds to relieve property tax levies.
Phil Miller, a Democrat who is running against Shipley for the House District 82 seat, expressed his support for the measure, writing, “Having recently served on the school board and seen how beneficially that money is used to provide our children a quality education, I encourage everyone to vote yes on this proposal. This will go a long way in strengthening our public schools.”