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Sunnyside Elementary Blue Ribbon

Sioux City schools Superintendent Paul Gausman talks to students at Sunnyside Elementary in a September 2015 photo. Air conditioning will be added at Sunnyside and Riverside Elementary Schools as part of mechanical upgrades presented to the school board Monday night.

SIOUX CITY -- Within roughly three years, early dismissal of students in the Sioux City School District due to the heat will likely be a thing of the past.

In recent years, elementary students from Bryant, Hunt, Riverside and Sunnyside schools have had early outs on hot or humid days in late summer or late spring, since they are the last four district schools without air conditioning systems. The six middle and high school buildings and the other elementary schools all have air conditioning.

During the school board meeting on Monday, a $1.7 million project to update the mechanical systems in Riverside and Sunnyside Elementary schools was explained to board members.

They approved a procedural step, by setting Jan. 28 as the time for a public hearing on the proposed plans and estimated cost of $1,682,380 for the project. The mechanical systems will be updated and air conditioning will be installed, said Brian Fahrendholz, the school district's director of operations and maintenance.

The Sunnyside work is pegged at $1.2 million and will be done this year, while Riverside costs are estimated at just under $470,000, and will be done in two phases through 2020.

The other two schools have been closed and will be re-opened with the same names with entirely new buildings. Bryant will open in August 2019, and Hunt will be the final school to add air conditioning when it opens in 2022.

STATE FUNDING WOES

At Monday' meeting, board member Miyuki Nelson said it is imperative the state legislature approves a higher percentage increase for K-12 schools funding than has been set in recent years, in order to stop a "funding gap" that has made it hard for the district to pay for programs and teachers.

The Iowa Legislature began the year of lawmaking activities on Monday, the same day as the school board meeting. Nelson had insisted that the board members bring back their previously set legislative priorities for 2018-19, to remind people of key goals sought.

The priorities include extending a one-cent sales tax, which was first collected in 1998 after a new state law, and which has enabled the school district to build  host of middle school and elementary facilities. The penny was collected in a local option sales tax for 10 years through 2008, then shifted to a statewide penny tax, with a sunset ahead in 2028.

Sioux City officials want that sunset on the program to be taken off, and contend that if the one-cent tax ends, school districts will turn to paying for more projects with property taxes.

The last two budget years, the state aid  to Iowa schools has grown by 1 percent and 1.1 percent. Over many times in recent months, board members have lamented trying to set a budget on such a lean percentage.

"In recent years, during and since the Great Recession, Iowa's state cost per pupil has experienced record low increases, falling short of the cost increase of delivering a sound education," a summary of the school district legislative priorities says.

In the budget for 2018-19, the district faced a $1.6 million budget deficit. Most of that gap was closed by eliminating supplemental pay for middle and high school teachers at a tune of about $4,800 apiece, or a total savings of $1.44 million.

The school district is being run on a $204 million spending plan in the current year, and the budget for 2019-20 is already being worked on prior to final required adoption by April 15.

The 2019-20 Sioux City district budget projections have been made with two figures, containing growth in state aid of 1 percent and 2 percent.

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