Superintendent Murley is going to the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board for a Playground Equipment Recreation Levy (PERL), which is scheduled as an agenda item at the Tuesday, December 9, 2014, board meeting. This tax would be in addition to 1) the tax for instructional support program, 2) the levy for the general fund, 3) the management levy, 4) the regular PPEL, 5) the voted PPEL, 6) the tax for Debt Service, 8) the sales tax (RPS/SAVE), 9) grants and state funds, 10) federal funds, and 11) monies raised by students, families, and the Foundation. Passage may be challenging–voters in Bettendorf rejected a PERL earlier this year.
According to the Iowa Administrative Code, revenues from a PERL, if approved, can be used as follows:
98.65(2) Appropriate uses of the PERL fund. Appropriate expenditures in the PERL fund include the following:
a. Establishing and maintaining free public recreation places and playgrounds, including necessary accommodations.
b. Providing free public educational and recreational activities.
c. Establishing and supervising a free community education program.
d. Providing a community education director if a community education program is established.
98.65(3) Inappropriate uses of the PERL fund. Inappropriate expenditures in the PERL fund include the following:
a. Programs for which a fee may be charged such as before- and after-school programs and preschool programs.
b. Any other costs not necessary to provide free programs for community education and for public recreation places, playgrounds, and programs. [ARC 8054B, IAB 8/26/09, effective 9/30/09]
There is overlap in what a PERL, if approved, could pay for and what the PPEL, SAVE (sales tax), and General Fund revenues can pay for. Ballot language for the Revenue Purpose Statement for SAVE , which voters approved on February 5, 2013, demonstrates that voters have been asked before for money for these purposes:
Monies also may be used to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds; provide for supervision and instruction of recreational activities; or for community education purpose, 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 [emphasis added].
I understand reasonable taxes are sometimes necessary and would support a PERL under the following conditions:
- That the superintendent and district not market a PERL as providing revenues to upgrade existing elementary facilities if the superintendent and/or board intends to and/or does shut down any of the district’s elementary schools in the event a future bond passes. This time there should be no bait and switch like making voters think elementary schools will stay open before the RPS vote and then deciding Hoover will be shut down—tell voters the truth now. Enforcing this requirement is tough as some voters have been misled in the past. If approved and the PERL turns out to be another bait and switch, the superintendent should be fired.
- PERL revenues should only be used to meet students’ needs, which we have a lot of, not for adult community education—we have city and Kirkwood Community College facilities that can provide community education for adults.
- PERL revenues should not be used to fund Family Resource Centers (FRCs) because these can be funded with SAVE revenues and additional grants or by cutting non-building level administrative expenses, which have grown in recent years.
- PERL should not be used to pay the salaries of existing personnel. If the district’s payroll is too bloated, it should be managed rather than the superintendent simply seeking another tax.
- PERL revenues should be used to provide, maintain, and upgrade existing and new playground and athletic facilities, including making them ADA compliant, across the district’s schools, including the new high school and new south side school.
- PERL revenues should be used to support additional training and athletic teams as necessary and to equalize opportunities for students of all income levels and abilities to participate in sports and extracurricular activities because there are limited opportunities for many students, especially high school students, to participate in athletics.
- Perhaps most importantly, public input should be obtained and used to identify unmet needs before the vote is taken to decide how the money will be spent. While I understand that Mr. Murley has already appointed a district committee composed almost entirely of his subordinates, it is the public who should decide how its tax money is spent. The bottom line is that the district has a lot of work to do before it can, with credibility, ask the voters for more taxes.
Handled correctly, a PERL could be used to make athletic and playground opportunities equitable across the district and to equalize athletic opportunities for students of all abilities and income levels across the district. With this limited purpose in mind, the board should survey each and every household across the district about what needs exist (and not use the Engage/mind mixer website) to do so. And the board should only approve submitting a PERL to the voters if the ballot language addressing what PERL revenues could be used for is very specific and limited.