Sergeant Bluff-Luton Bond Issue

Students are shown in a classroom at Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School in Sergeant Bluff on Tuesday. Voters in the district on Tuesday defeated a $62 million bond issue and property tax increase that would include construction of a $49 million high school.

SIOUX CITY -- With voters in the Sergeant Bluff-Luton School District soundly rejecting a major bond issue for the third time in as many years, leaders of the growing district regrouped Wednesday as they searched for an alternative to easing classroom crowding.

In the wake of the defeat, the district likely will continue to limit students from neighboring districts open enrolling in SB-L, superintendent Rod Earleywine said.

Forty-eight percent of SB-L voters supported Tuesday's $62 million bond issue that called for upgrades to the district's buildings, including construction of a $49 million high school. Because a related measure would have raised property taxes to finance the construction, a super majority of at least 60 percent was required for passage, under state law. 

Earleywine said he was "disappointed" with the results because "the needs continue. The goal is the same -- we need quality, updated facilities for our students."

Two similar bond referendums -- $45 million in 2015 and $39 million in 2016 -- both received 45 percent support, about 3 percent less than Tuesday's vote.

"This was a plan that was developed 11 years ago, it has been vetted several times since then...This is the right plan, but the price tag is too much for people," Earleywine acknowledged.

Two measures were on Tuesday's ballot. Proposition W would have allowed the district to issue $62 million in general obligation bonds to construct and furnish the new high school and an adjacent $7 million 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 have authorized an additional property tax levy of $3.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to retire the debt. For a home assessed at $100,000, property taxes would have increased by $212 per year.

The final vote was 1,037 in favor of Prop W, and 1,145 against it. For Prop P, 1,021 voted affirmatively while 1,161 voted no.

In the wake of the defeat, Earleywine said the SB-L School Board will need to determine the next steps for "the right path" forward.

Sergeant Bluff is a growing city of about 4,700 residents. School officials pointed out its existing classrooms are near capacity, as enrollment has risen from 1,373 in 2014-15 to 1,438 this year.

Some opponents of the bond measures have argued that enrollment has grown because past school boards approved too many open-enrollment requests from students and families living outside the district. This year, 276 students came to SB-L via open enrollment, while another 100 left for other districts, for a net gain of about 175.

Earleywine said the school board, for a few years, has only accepted open enrollment requests for students entering kindergarten, first grade or fourth grade.

"We denied 25 open enrollments this year," Earleywine said. 

The superintendent said the goal is to keep each grade at no more than around 125 students.

Earleywine said the district will continue to excel even with its space and building limitations. Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School, for instance, was one of just six Iowa schools named a 2018 National Blue Ribbon Schools. The U.S. Department of Education honored the schools for their overall academic performance at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. this year.

"There is a reason why people want to come to Sergeant Bluff-Luton," Earleywine said.

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