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SERGEANT BLUFF -- After two failed attempts, Sergeant Bluff-Luton will ask voters next week to approve a property tax increase to finance new construction to deal with crowded classrooms and aging school buildings.

Two measures will appear on the ballot for a Dec. 11 special election. Proposition W would allow the district to issue $62 million in general obligation bonds to construct and furnish a new high school and athletic complex, turn the existing high school into a middle school and remodel the existing middle school as an elementary school.

The second measure, Proposition P, would authorize the district to levy an additional property tax not to exceed $3.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to retire the bonds.

Under state law, the property tax increase would require "super majority" approval from at least 60 percent of voters.

Two similar referendums failed to receive even a simple majority. A $45 million bond issue in September 2015 and a $39 million million initiative in April 2016 each received about 45 percent support.

The most recent defeats sent school officials back to the drawing board. Tuesday's referendum contains recommendations from Warrior Faces, a grassroots group that has held a series of community meetings to explain the projects.

The centerpiece is a $49 million high school, with construction starting on an adjacent piece of school-owned land in 2020, with an opening in 2022. A $7 million athletics complex would be built next to the new school.

Also in 2022, under the plan, middle school students would move into the old high school, which SB-L officials said can be remodeled with funds other than from the new bonds.

About $4 million in bond proceeds would be used to update the existing middle school as a primary school, with a projected reopening in 2023. Classrooms would be added to the elementary building, at a cost of $2 million in bond proceeds.

The existing elementary school, which is 67 years old and in need of repairs, would then be demolished.

The primary school currently holds pre-kingdergarten through second grade students, while the elementary houses grades 3-5.

SB-L officials point out that the existing buildings are near capacity, as enrollment has risen from 1,373 students in 2014-15 to 1,438 this year.

Opponents in the past two elections have objected to the high cost and increase in their property taxes. 

Warrior Faces points out the tax levy of $10.36 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the 2018-19 year school year is the lowest in the decade. If the referendum passes, they say, the levy would revert to the rate of $14.17 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the 2015-16 school year. 

SB-L Superintendent Rod Earleywine urged residents to note that "we will continue to have a very low tax rate," below the levy rate of such adjacent districts as Sioux City and Lawton-Bronson.

Earleywine said property taxes would rise by $212 per year for a house assessed at $100,000.

The increased taxes would retire the bonds over 20 years. 

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Sergeant Bluff Community Center, 903 Topaz.

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County and education reporter

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