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Western Iowa School Districts To Hold Bond Referendums For Building Improvements

Courtesy of Council Bluffs Community School District
Two school districts in western Iowa are holding special elections this month for bonds to fund construction projects.

Some western Iowa school districts are letting voters decide this month whether or not they should issue bonds to fund school improvement projects.
Residents in the Council Bluffs Community School District area in southwest Iowa go to the polls Sept. 11 to vote on a $37 million bond to renovate two local middle schools, Kirn and Wilson.

Council Bluffs Community School District Superintendent Vickie Murillo says the district wants to address energy efficiency, building upgrades, safety and security in the two schools. They're hoping to upgrade plumbing systems and lighting, increase classroom sizes and create flexible learning spaces.

On the safety and security side, the bond would fund entrance halls called vestibules so visitors cannot bypass the front offices.

“The vestibules mean once you enter, you automatically have to enter the office before you can have access to the building,” Murillo said.

Murillo said safety and security have been a priority for the district and many others across the country, coinciding with the national conversation of protecting schools in the face of a shooting or other tragic events. Vestibules at the districts’ two high schools are being finalized and the elementary schools already have vestibules in place.

“It creates kind of that one more layer of security for our buildings as someone enters, that we know exactly why they’re there, what purpose they’re there,” she said. “As [visitors] enter into the main building, anyone that they’d pass would see their visitors’ badge and it will state exactly what their purpose is and what room they’re visiting.”

If the bond passes, the average $120,000 home in the district would pay about $31 more in annual property taxes.

In northwest Iowa, Cherokee Community Schools is asking voters to decide next Tuesday on a $12 million bond for structural improvements at its high school building, safety and security measures and an expansion to Cherokee Middle School so it could also house students from pre-Kindergarten through fourth grade.

Cherokee Community Schools Superintendent Kim Lingenfelter says she would not see any problems with mixing the youngest preschool class with the eighth graders in the same school.

“They will have separate entrances, which I feel is a necessity,” Lingenfelter said. “Mainstreaming from three campuses to two campuses, I see a lot of benefits. I see staffing flexibility, maintenance would be a huge benefit, transportation.”

Cherokee Regional Medical Center offered $4 million to purchase the district's middle school buildings and grounds. The $4 million would help fund the Cherokee school district’s building projects, bringing the total to $16.7 million.

Iowa Public Radio could not reach the medical center for comment on whether or not it has decided what to do with the middle school.

If Cherokee’s referendum passes, residents who live in a home valued at $100,000 would be paying about $50 in additional property taxes per year.

Both districts rely on the state’s one cent sales tax, which allows one penny for every retail dollar spent to go to school infrastructure projects. Murillo and Lingenfelter said since the sales tax is set to expire in 2029, they both want to plan ahead. Bond referendums are 20-year projects, Lingenfelter said.

The last time the Council Bluffs district asked the community to approve a bond was in 1996. Cherokee last went to its taxpayers for a bond in 1998.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.