On May 24, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an extension of the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure at the Sioux City School District's Career Academy as many students from the academy looked on. Twenty-one years ago, Gov. Terry Branstad signed the original school infrastructure sales tax bill in Sioux City because Sioux City and Woodbury County is where this issue began. The original bill took a lot of lobbying of not only the governor, but the Legislature. At the time they were not real "hot" on the idea of increasing the sales tax. The fact it had to be voted on by the citizens of the county and had a sunset was critical to legislators and the governor.
Approximately 22 years ago, a group of people met at the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce to discuss the fact Sioux City schools not only were aging, but repairs were being done in a "Band-Aid" way. Several of our schools were either 100 years old or fast approaching 100.
At that point Sioux City had not passed a bond issue in about 30 years. The group did not think we could pass one large enough to do all that was needed. After discussing the idea of adding one cent to our sales tax, committee members began to believe it was the best idea for adequately addressing necessary repairs and building new schools and that it would need to be sold, but it was doable. Since the vote needed to be countywide, the committee decided it was only fair to share the money with all school districts in Woodbury County. Former Superintendent Larry Williams went to other districts in the county and explained the idea to them. They could see the advantage of the tax, as well.
The original idea was the tax would sunset in 10 years and the only way to extend it was for the county to vote on it again and spell out on the ballot how the tax dollars would be used.
Woodbury County was the first county in Iowa to approve a 10-year, local-option sales tax for school infrastructure (the tax first passed in 1998; county voters approved a 10-year extension in 2005). The tax was supported by Iowans through referendums in individual counties across the state as a local-option sales tax before it became a statewide tax in 2008.
With money from the tax, the Sioux City School District has built three new middle schools and many elementary schools (with Bryant nearly completed and Hunt in the beginning stages). Helped by money from the one-cent tax, the science rooms of the three high schools were enlarged and upgraded, as well.
Also, the tax helped create the Career Academy, which I have had the opportunity to tour on two occasions.
Through participation in the academy, students from the three public high schools in Sioux City, Heelan High School in Sioux City and more than a dozen area high schools earn college credits. The academy provides students with the opportunity to explore over 30 different pathways. The pathways are career-focused and integrate high school courses and core academic knowledge with technical and occupational knowledge. The academy connects workforce needs, community needs and student needs. When young people are in the correct career for them, opportunities abound.
The district's goal in the not-too-distant future is to expand the trades track. This is immensely important to those of us who own or manage companies that are a part of the trades, whether it is roofing, plumbing, carpentry, or electrical, to name a few. Someone has to build, expand or remodel the buildings in which our offices are located, as well as our homes. Not all students are college-bound, many want to learn a trade. This opportunity allows students a viable career and helps make them workforce-ready. The trades offer people the opportunity to make not only a good living, but an opportunity to feel good about themselves.
The Sioux City School District is one of the most property-tax-poor districts in the state. In order for the Sioux City district to build new schools and do the repairs necessary to existing buildings, we needed creation and approval - first at the county level, then at the state level - of the school infrastructure tax. Equally important to our schools was this year's extension of the penny tax so we can continue improving and repairing our buildings.
Next week: Al Sturgeon
Charese Yanney of Sioux City is owner and managing partner of Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation Co. She serves on the Siouxland Initiative Executive Committee, the Orpheum Theatre Preservation Board, the Orpheum Theatre Endowment Board and the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission.