Does an Iowa School Property Tax Rate = School Property Taxes? No.

In Iowa, school property taxes do not equal the school tax rate, the latter of which is just one input in calculating school property taxes. Equating a comparably low school tax rate to low school property taxes is an interesting debate tactic when marketing an upcoming school bond vote but is not accurate. School property tax inputs include:

  1. Assessed Value of Home
  2. Iowa’s Residential Rollback
  3. Credit(s)
  4. School Tax Rate aka School Levy (which has multiple parts)

For a general idea of how school property taxes might shake out by city in Iowa, see below. The information with an asterisk came from the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD). The assessed valuation of comparable homes in various cities does not seem to be easily available so the “median price of a home” from Zillow was used.

For the most accurate information about the total dollar amount of school property taxes you pay, check your own tax records. Or if you are a renter and curious about what your landlord pays, Iowa property tax information is publicly available.

ICCSD Compared to Nine Other Iowa Districts with Larger Enrollments

ICCSD’s property tax rate is the lowest among the ten school districts listed above; however, ICCSD’s “Fiscal Year 2017 Assesssed Valuation Per Pupil” is the highest among the ten districts listed above.  The assessed valuation of your home will have a significant impact on the dollar amount of property taxes you owe and must pay.

Posted in Bond, Bond vote, Debt Levy, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Iowa Schools, School Taxes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

School Property Taxes: What Do We Really Pay?

School Taxes, such as those levied by the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), are a big percentage of property taxes. So what percent of one’s total property taxes are paid to ICCSD?  The ICCSD board president has stated that ICCSD taxes represent 36% of total property taxes–is this number accurate? The answer is no, not for all ICCSD residents.  For example, about 42.07% of property taxes North Liberty home owners pay are ICCSD taxes. For other taxpayers, the figure is as high as 55%.  And if the proposed ICCSD general obligation bond is passed this September, the debt levy portion of school taxes will further increase substantially.

The chart below shows the accurate total tax rate (total levy) in dollars per thousand dollars of assessed property valuation of areas within ICCSD and applies to taxes payable in 2016 to 2017.

It is also necessary to determine what a particular property is valued at by the assessor in order to calculate the true dollar amount of property taxes  The assessed property values in the ICCSD are some of the highest in the state of Iowa.

You can get the current assessed value of your property from the county and city assessors, which are available here for Johnson County and here for Iowa City.  Also, see here for specific Johnson County, Iowa, property tax information, enter your address information, then click on “Property Taxes” at the bottom of the web page and then click on “Explanation of Tax Format” if you are interested in viewing the school tax dollars from the previous year and comparing these dollars to the current year.

School Taxes Current



Posted in Bond, Bond vote, Coralville, Debt Levy, Hills, ICCSD, Iowa City, Iowa City Schools, North Liberty, School Taxes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ICCSD’s General Obligation Bond Myth

The following rumor about Iowa City Community School District’s proposed upcoming general obligation bond vote is simply false.

Myth:  If voters in the Iowa City Community School District pass a general obligation bond this fall, it will restore and save fourth grade orchestra [which was cut in 2014].

This statement is not true.


Posted in Bond, Bond Myth, Bond vote, Budget, General Obligation Bond, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Guidance from ED about the “Rights of Students with Disabilities” and “Restraint and Seclusion” in Public Schools

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released the following documents to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities and how the use of restraint or seclusion can result in discrimination against students with disabilities….” See the ED Press Release dated December 28, 2016.*

The Dear Colleague Letter: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities states the following:

Specifically, students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) represented 12% of students enrolled in public schools nationally, but 67% of the students who were subjected to restraint or seclusion in school.

The same Dear Colleague Letter notes in numbers 9 and 10 on pages 13 through 16 that even unintentional discrimination in schools’ use of restraint or seclusion may be illegal. Locally, Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) superintendent stated at the December 2016 District Parent Organization meeting that its “time out” rooms were not used with non-special education students in recent years and that a committee will examine best practices and bring a recommendation to the board. See also the ICCSD board work session minutes here and The Gazette article here.

ICCSD’s board member Chris Liebig has written ICCSD should Dismantle the boxes at his Another Blog about School. The Dear Colleague Letter  notes on page 21 that school districts may be required to provide compensatory services (among other remedies) if a student entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is denied the same because of wrongful restraint or seclusion–so there is potential school district liability, a further reason to eliminate the use of locked seclusion rooms.

The Dear Colleague Letter on page 22 poses the question Where can school districts turn in order to learn how to reduce or eliminate the use of restraint or seclusion in their schools? Notably, the response to this question includes the following, suggesting that an expert in childhood trauma and its treatment should be part of any ICCSD committee examining “time out” rooms.

Students who have experienced trauma in the past may be vulnerable in ways that some of their peers are not, and could therefore be impacted by the use of coercive practices in a much more significant way.

Absent an immediate and emergency threat to the safety of the students or others, school districts should eliminate the practices of restraint and seclusion.


*Thanks to COPAA’s Facebook page  for bringing these documents to my attention.

Posted in ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, isolation box, Restraint and Seclusion, Students with Disabilities, Time Out, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

ICCSD’s Isolation Boxes

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) does many things well; however, the Iowa Department of Education Accreditation Final Report Iowa City School District  (Report), an audit of ICCSD’s provision of special education services, highlighted the need for improvement, including services related to student Behavior Intervention Plans.

With regard to behavior interventions, ICCSD board member, Chris Liebig, has written about ICCSD’s use of isolation boxes here and his post entitled Dismantle the boxes includes links to the articles written by The Gazette (Cedar Rapids’ newspaper). I would encourage readers to read board member Liebig’s blog post and The Gazette articles he links to.

ICCSD’s board’s December 13, 2016 Work Session Agenda  includes a spreadsheet describing and detailing ICCSD’s reported isolation boxes (see here and referenced as “timeout rooms” in this attachment) along with three additional documents on the same topic (including two documents contributed by board member Phil Hemingway from a constituent). For added support for Mr. Liebig’s position, consider the following quotation from the Report that some of ICCSD behavior “treatment procedures” made behavior worse. These findings speak for themselves and deserve immediate further attention and researched-based child-centered solutions. Thanks to board member Liebig for following up on the use of isolation boxes and for bringing them to the board’s attention and to board member Phil Hemingway also.

The team reviewed 50 IEPs that contained behavioral intervention plans. No discernable Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) was found for 29 of these (58%), substandard FBAs for another 7 (14%) and minimally adequate to moderate adequacy for another 14 (28%). Most of the Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) reviewed did contain at least one behavior of concern that related to observable events that were measurable. Most of the BIPs reviewed also contained research – based functions identified (i.e., escape, attention, etc.), however, in several instances the treatment procedures that were associated with the BIP would tend to reinforce the identified problematic behaviors. This disconnect is likely to lead to the increased risk of restrictive procedures. (Emphasis added.) (Report pp. 17-18).
Posted in Accreditation Report, Board, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, isolation box, Special Education, Special Education Accreditation Report, Time out room, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Free and Reduced Lunch Data & ICCSD

Who are these free and reduced lunch (FRL) households? Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) FRL data has been bandied about as board candidates and voters discuss whether to bus students to achieve more socioeconomic balance.

To put FRL data into perspective, a household’s eligibility for FRL is not always synonymous with poverty because some households eligible for FRL have incomes above the federal poverty level. See here.

To see free and reduced lunch guidelines for the 2016-2017 school year, see page 3 at this link and also see here.

2016-2017 free and reduced lunch

FRL Income Eligibility Guidelines for 2016-2017 School Year for 48 Contiguous States

Households can qualify for free lunch  if their household income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. So a family of four could make up to $31,590 annually.

Households can qualify for reduced lunch if their household income does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. So family of four can make up to $44,955 annually and qualify for reduced lunch.

Sometimes all students in a particular school will receive free breakfast and lunch.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) …allows schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students….(See here.)

Homeless “children [are] automatically eligible for free meals or free milk.” (See here on pages 7-8 & 15.)

To put ICCSD’s FRL data into even more perspective, here is a link to the Johnson County Iowa Area Median Income Guidelines. So a family of four with a household income of $44,995 annually (the highest income a four person household could have and still qualify for reduced lunch) would be very near the bottom of the third quartile for the area median income in Johnson County, Iowa. Many local FRL households would be in the bottom quartile of Johnson County’s area median income.

A single parent who went back to school and became a new teacher in ICCSD and had three children with no other household income would have children who would qualify for FRL. Undoubtedly, a lot of FRL families have parents who work part or full time or perhaps are retirees living on a limited income or are disabled.

Schools’ participation in the National School Lunch Program is 1) necessary to help ensure hunger is not a barrier to learning, and 2) brings money into states and their school districts. See here and below.

Reimbursement FRL

2015-2016 “Payments to States and School Food Authorities” under the National School Lunch Program

There are likely many reasons FRL participation rates are increasing nationally, including that 1) schools have done a better job with public outreach and of identifying and getting eligible families to apply,  especially during the recession, 2) the application is more family friendly, and 3) the application is in many languages.

School board candidate, J.P. Claussen, pointed out that ICCSD’s high schools’ average FRL rate [31.2%] was below its average elementary rate [37.7%], and ICCSD’s own enrollment report (page 27) shows this to be so. As families age, incomes sometimes grow so that households may lose their eligibility for FRL over time. Also local demographics are changing, and the University of Iowa’s enrollment is increasing, which may result in more young parents with lower household incomes.

With ICCSD’s FRL rates among schools ranging from <10% to >70%, more balance among  schools would be desirable. To create more flexibility in school assignments, roads and rivers, absent compelling reasons otherwise, should not be used as artificial boundary lines. Additionally, now is the time to discuss whether additional balance could be achieved if junior highs were not strictly aligned to high schools and to take the next step toward enriched programming or magnet schools to drive some school choice. Whether ICCSD utilizes bussing as a strategy or not, ICCSD can do better.


Posted in ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

State Special Education Report of ICCSD Profoundly Disturbing

Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) founded  and repeated failures to comply with special education law is a civil rights issue. The redacted Iowa Department of Education Accreditation Final Report Iowa City School District dated June 13, 2016 (Report) is profoundly disturbing, especially in its description of ICCSD’s noncompliance areas as “systemic” and its findings as “pervasive and substantive” (Report p. 32).

This Report is not an indictment of staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, and concerned Board members, all of whom the Report noted are a strength of the district (Report p. 5). Under its policy governance model, ICCSD’s board can hold one employee accountable–the superintendent. Good governance starts at the top.

Iowa City CSD educational staff are committed to providing the best educational services they can for learners in the Iowa City CSD. District procedures and practices, however, hinder their abilities to provide those services. This was evidenced by interviews as well as a large number of violations. (Report p. 32)

ICCSD board member, Phil Hemingway, was right when he expressed his concern that the district “lawyered up” instead of just complying. The solution is to comply.

A child with a disability often has many barriers to learning,  and the percentage of special education students who qualify for free and reduced lunch is likely higher than ICCSD’s overall percentage of 35.7%. Children with disabilities are a vulnerable population.

Among other requirements, the law  is clear parents are entitled to participate in meetings about and be involved in placement decisions concerning their child with a disability. Further, schools must provide prior written notice to parents before changing that same child’s Individual Education Program (IEP). Failure to comply with the law can result in a child not receiving services he or she is legally entitled to as each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

One of the responsibilities of the implementation advisor will be to ensure that the district understands the substantive nature of the violations (Report p.7).

ICCSD’s recent enrollment report on page 44 shows over one thousand (>1,000) students are enrolled in special  education or about 9.4% of its weighted enrollment. State auditors did not audit each IEP.

The Report shows that the Grant Wood Area Education Association had initially identified 105 IEPs for children where new IEP meetings were required. [T]he Department of Education reviewed an additional random sample of 50 IEPs for compliance.  In those IEPs, 68 additional individual citations were identified (Report p. 7). Not good.

Eleven (11) pages of the Report addressed ICCSD’s special education Finance Status (Report pp. 21-31), including that ICCSD incurred the largest deficit in the state, exceeding those of the next highest district by over $1.2 million each year (Report p. 21) and that additional training is needed to ensure proper account coding (Report p. 30). So there may be financial repercussions that negatively impact ICCSD’s general fund although ICCSD may be able to claim additional reimbursement from Medicaid (Report p. 25).

ICCSD’s corporate culture did not escape rebuke (Report pp. 8-9).

Additionally, numerous interviewees described the district culture as “retaliatory.”  Several people interviewed expressed reluctance to express opinions or make requests that were known to be different than those of district administration.  We encourage the district to reflect on the message and method of communication to staff and effect on the district culture.

ICCSD’s Superintendent Stephen Murley noted this concern in this news report .

Murley said the district also plans to address those issues.

“Part of our concern is where that is coming from,” Murley said. “That may be very localized at a building level so we’ll be looking to see where that’s happening so we can correct that.”

If retaliation is occurring, it could be in contravention of ICCSD’s Superintendent Directions in its School Board Policies, which provide as follows:

The Superintendent shall (LEVEL 3b):
2. Allow any staff member to express an ethical dissent, without consequence. (Board Policy 401.1)
3. Allow staff members to communicate with Board members, either individually or as a Board, with regard to any matter, especially any assertions that board policies have been violated or that those policies do not adequately protect their human rights. (Board Policy 104, 401.1)
4. Inform staff of their rights under this policy. (Board policy 401.1)


Retaliation may also be illegal (see here and #6 here).

ICCSD must comply and audit compliance. Corrective measures must have credibility to be successful. Since these problems arose under the superintendent’s watch, Mr. Murley is not the proper party to further investigate or oversee  corrective action. Independent and transparent oversight is necessary. The state required “implementation advisor” (Report pp. 7-8), should report independently and publicly to the entire board at each future meeting.

Educating all children, including those with disabilities, is equitable and right, and these children deserve no less.

Posted in Board, General Fund, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Murley, Retaliation, Special Education, Special Education Accreditation Report, Superintendent, Uncategorized | Leave a comment