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Living in Society

Solon Schools: A Bond and Two Board Seats

1,515 students attend four schools in the Solon Community School District this year. There is a $25 million bond referendum election in March, and a school board election in the fall.

I plan to cover both elections.

The school board terms of Adam Haluska and Jami Wolf expire this year. Neither has formally announced whether they intend to seek another term.

The school does well on key statistics, beginning with a student:teacher ratio of 16:1. The district ranks in the top five percent of districts in the State of Iowa, top ten percent in math proficiency, top five percent in reading/language arts proficiency, and 95 percent of students graduate. While less diverse than an average Iowa K-12 school system, it maintains a seven percent minority enrollment with 33 students of two or more races, 58 Hispanic students, eight Asians, and seven blacks. The school system attracts young families to the area. For these reasons and more, I expect the community to support the bond referendum.

The special election for the bond is set for March 7, 2023. The district posted an explainer about the bond referendum here. The lengthy language on the ballot is as follows on the Johnson County Auditor website:

Public Measure LX
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Shall the Board of Directors of the Solon Community School District in the Counties of Johnson and Linn, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $25,500,000 to provide funds to construct, furnish, and equip an addition to Solon Intermediate School building and improve the site; to renovate, remodel, improve, repair, furnish and equip Lakeview Elementary building and improve the site; to renovate, remodel, improve, repair, furnish and equip the Transportation Center; to construct, furnish, and equip a new Administrative building and improve the site; to construct, furnish, and equip a new multi-purpose indoor activity facility and improve the site; and to install a new field at Spartan Stadium?

Public Measure LY
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Summary: To adopt a Revenue Purpose Statement specifying the use of revenues the Solon Community School District will receive from the State of Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund.

In the Solon Community School District, the following Revenue Purpose Statement which specifies the use of revenues the Solon Community School District will receive from the State of Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund shall be adopted. 

To provide funds to acquire or install information technology infrastructure (including improving buildings or sites for the purpose of accessing broadband digital telecommunications) and school safety and security infrastructure. 

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, reconstruct, repair, expand, and improve the school buildings in the District; to purchase and improve grounds; for demolition work; to furnish and equip district facilities. 

To provide funds for the purchase, lease or lease-purchase of buildings, equipment (including transportation and recreation equipment), or technology and to repair transportation equipment for transporting students as authorized by law, to implement energy conservation measures, sharing or rental of facilities including a joint infrastructure project for the purposes of offering classes under district-to-community college programs as authorized in Iowa Code Section 423F.3(3)(c), procuring or acquisition of libraries, or opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings. 

To provide funds to purchase land as part of start-up costs for new student construction program or if the sale of the previous student construction was insufficient to purchase land, and to purchase construction materials and supplies for a student-constructed building or shed intended to be retained by and used by the District. 

To provide funds to make payments to a municipality or other entity as required under Iowa Code Section 403.19(2). 

To provide funds for demolition, cleanup, and other costs if such costs are necessitated by, and incurred within two years of, a disaster. 

To provide funds to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds; provide for supervision and instruction for recreational activities; or for community education purposes. 

To provide funds for the payment of principal and interest or retirement of general obligation bonds issued for school infrastructure purposes, energy improvement loans, loan agreements authorized by Iowa Code Section 297.36, sales, service and use tax revenue bonds issued under Iowa Code Section 423E.5 or Iowa Code Section 423F.4. 

To provide funds for property tax relief; and

To provide funds for other authorized expenditures and purposes as now or hereafter permitted by law and designated by the Solon Community School District. 

It being understood that if this proposition should fail to be approved by the voters, such failure shall not be construed to terminate or restrict authority previously granted by the voters to expend receipts from the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund. 

If approved, this Revenue Purpose Statement shall remain in effect until replaced or amended by the Solon Community School District. 

Public Measure LZ
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Shall the Board of Directors of the Solon Community School District, in the Counties of Johnson and Linn, State of Iowa, for the purpose of purchasing and improving grounds; constructing schoolhouses or buildings and opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings; purchasing of buildings; purchase, lease or lease-purchase of technology and equipment; paying debts contracted for the erection or construction of schoolhouses or buildings, not including interest on bonds; procuring or acquisition of libraries; repairing, remodeling, reconstructing, improving, or expanding the schoolhouses or buildings and additions to existing schoolhouses; expenditures for energy conservation; renting facilities under Iowa Code Chapter 28E; purchasing transportation equipment for transporting students; lease purchase option agreements for school buildings or equipment; purchasing equipment authorized by law; or for any purpose or purposes now or hereafter authorized by law, be authorized for a period of ten (10) years, to levy annually, a voter-approved physical plant and equipment property tax not to exceed One Dollar Thirty-Four Cents ($1.34) per One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) of the assessed valuation of the taxable property within the school district commencing with the levy for collection in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2027, or each year thereafter?

There will be additional posts as the election dates approach.

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Living in Society

Picks for Sept. 12 School Election

Sample Ballot for Sept. 12 School Election

It’s easy to pick three school board candidates from the four running in the Solon Community School District.

I’ll be voting for Rick Jedlicka, Nicole Pizzini and Tim Brown.

Nothing against Coons, who served previously on the board.

Pizzini is the only new person running. She’s a known entity in the community and the board needs new people and new ideas in the wake of the long capital expenditure cycle just concluded with the opening of the new Solon Middle School last week. Pizzini is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Ambrose University. Her academic experience combined with a clear, well-articulated interest in the district makes her a solid choice for one of our three votes.

Rick Jedlicka, former Solon mayor and current school board member, is well known and respected in the community. Tim Brown has been part of board planning during the recent capital expenditure cycle and re-electing him adds continuity to the next board.

It’s that simple for me.

Also on the ballot is an extension of the current $60,000,000 bonding authority for Kirkwood Community College. This is the second time in six years Kirkwood asked for an extension of the ten-year authority first passed in 2005. It is the only item on the ballot beside the school board candidates. Extending the current $0.25 per $1,000 valuation until 2032 is for me an easy yes.

I plan to vote on election day, leaving open the option of changing my votes based on new information. It’s possible, but doubtful anything would come to light that would change my vote.

My hope is the turnout is much better than in previous elections.

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Living in Society

No drama, no tax increase, results only

Big Grove Township School #1

There’s a school board election Sept. 12 in the Solon Community School District and I’m pumped! We all should be jazzed if we care about K-12 education.

Like Ahab hunting Leviathan I believe big voter turnout in school board elections is possible. History shows me wrong — in the 2015 school board election only 281 people turned out at the polls. History notwithstanding I encourage people to vote in every election.

Current school board president Dick Schwab was involved with the 2014 general obligation bond voters approved by 71 percent.

“I’m delighted. I couldn’t be happier,” Schwab was quoted in the Iowa City Press Citizen as saying at the time. “We obviously have a lot of work to do; we’re basically on a path to make the district even better and these are resources that will help us do that.”

He was right. We see the physical plant improvements the bond made possible: notably a middle school and the performing arts center. Compare that to this year’s Iowa City Community School District bond proposal and Solon’s bonding process was no drama, no tax increase, results only.

Many of us will miss Dick Schwab when he leaves the school board.

When the filing period for three school board positions closed Aug. 3, Schwab’s name wasn’t among the candidates. The four who did file include current board members Tim Brown and Rick Jedlicka, and Dan Coons and Nichole Pizzini. Presuming the incumbents will be re-elected, Schwab’s open seat is contested.

I believe every voter in the district should learn about Coons and Pizzini, make a reasoned decision, and VOTE. Admittedly not every voter will follow my advice. I also know the Solon community can do better when it comes to voting in school board elections.

~ Published in the Solon Economist Aug. 10, 2017

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Living in Society

Haying and the School Board Election

Hay Bales

Haying is a social and economic movement and around here farming takes precedence over schooling.

There’s a school board election Sept. 12 in farm country.

Farmers are buying 9,000-foot spools of Brazilian baler twine, windrow teeth, left and right handed rake wheels, baling wire, reels of bale netting and a lot more.

Tens of thousands of straw and hay bales have been harvested the last couple of weeks. Some went into bunkers and barns, some sit in large round rolls near the field, and some were sold and trucked out.

Because of Thursday’s rain showers more farmers than usual came to town. I got an update on the season from several of them at the home, farm and auto supply store. Not one talked about the school board elections.

Thursday was also the school board election filing deadline in Iowa. I live in the Solon Community School District where activities of the school board continue as background noise to a number of large construction projects. Since 2000, district resources have been invested in a new high school, a ready to open middle school, a new performing arts center, a new football stadium and a new sports complex. Except for the graduates who stayed in town, public works projects are the most visible aspect of recent school board activities.

I tried to get the skinny about who was running for three seats in the Sept. 12 election but no one seemed to know, including current and former board members, the newspaper, and local political activists. I found out from the county auditor after the filing deadline. Four people filed for three open seats.

The terms of Dick Schwab, Rick Jedlicka and Tim Brown are up this year. Jedlicka and Brown filed for re-election and barring controversy should be easily re-elected. Former board member Dan Coons and newcomer Nichole Pizzini also filed. Schwab decided to end his long service on the board, opting to move out of state before the next school board term would have ended. That leaves his seat open for either Coons or Pizzini in this non-partisan election.

A few years back a local group, many of whom were associated with Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, made a successful, concerted effort to take control of the Solon school board. Coons and Brown were candidates the group supported. Both are registered Republicans according to Johnson County Auditor records.

Pizzini’s family has long been interested in politics. Her husband, Shawn Mercer, filed for state representative as a Democrat when Ro Foege retired in 2008. He withdrew once party leaders indicated Nate Willems of Mount Vernon was the insider pick to replace Foege. Mercer is a current member of the Solon City Council. Pizzini is a registered Democrat.

In school board elections personality matters more than politics, so the advantage goes to Coons over Pizzini from the get-go because he organized for previous campaigns and has name recognition as a former board member. There is a stunning lack of controversy about the school board today. Because of the positives of a new middle school and sports complex, the political environment favors incumbency.

In recent years, the highest vote getter in a Solon school board election was Don Otto in 2000 with 1,118 votes, according to the county auditor’s website. Word of mouth is the most effective tool to get information from the candidates to voters. Pizzini is the underdog as a newcomer, however, with smart work she could get the votes needed to win a seat. That makes the Coons – Pizzini match up interesting. The expectation is voter turnout will be low, even with a contest, so either Coons or Pizzini could activate the number of voters required to win.

In Solon there is living memory of attending the one-room school house at the edge of town. For many we are not far removed from that time and its deep roots in farming. Nonetheless, in addition to qualified teachers, adequate, modern facilities are important. Recent school boards in Solon have delivered.

I look forward to learning more about the candidates as the campaigns progress.

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Living in Society

Back to a Non-partisan School Board

Southwest Corner of Main at Market
Southwest Corner of Main at Market

Voter turnout in yesterday’s Solon school board election dropped from 834 votes in 2013 (18.4 percent of registered voters) to 281 votes (8.18 percent).

What happened? The district is moving on after a 10-year cycle of electing politicized and mostly conservative board members to finding a less political, middle ground focused on doing what’s right for district school children.

2013 was arguably the high water mark for this change when the community rallied around former Solon mayor Rick Jedlicka to ensure his place on the school board.

It is telling that there were virtually no political yard signs for school board candidates on display this year. The change from previous years indicates an emerging lack of interest in political aspects of the school board.

Adam Haluska, a former University of Iowa basketball player, and Jim Hauer, a small business owner, got the most votes, with Hauer edging incumbent Dan Coons by three votes for the second seat on the board. From a talent perspective, the race between the two winners was a tossup. The community voted for the future by electing them both.

There are issues with the school board. They spend money like they have it, but that is a complaint I have about most governmental entities. The bigger problem is how to deal with growth in the district.

Will population continue to move to communities like Solon? For the time being, new families are attracted by the perceived quality of district schools and the proximity to amenities found in nearby Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. A significant amount of new, single family home construction has taken place over the last 25 years. The housing is a bit pricey, but comfortable for a family, and not over priced in the market.

The community is centrally located to enable working in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. A significant number of people commute to work in the Quad-Cities. It is fair to say there will be incremental growth. Accurate projections—the kind needed to plan infrastructure—are harder to come by.

With the build-out of the new middle school and the performing arts center, the district should reach caesura as the community finds its way. The task of the new school board is to finish the current construction plan and work with the newly hired school superintendent, Davis Eidahl, to set a plan for the future.

Based on yesterday’s voter turnout, most people take the idea there will be progress for granted.