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Meeting the Needs of Enrollment Growth

At a time when many rural Iowa communities are losing residents, Storm Lake has been fortunate to experience considerable residential growth over the past several years. Our outstanding schools represent a big reason why families continue to move here. While this provides us with numerous opportunities, it also means we must find new ways to meet the demands of more students attending our schools.


Currently, the Storm Lake Community School District is experiencing the greatest pressure on its capacity at the elementary and middle school levels. Both will likely be over capacity by about 150 students this year. The district is also approaching a point at which it might not have enough space for an incoming class of kindergarten students in the near future.


The Storm Lake Board of Education’s top priority is to continue to provide a safe learning environment and a top-quality educational experience for all students. To that end, we are engaging in a process to plan for the future. This process will be open and transparent, and all members of the community are invited to take part.


In December, residents will have an opportunity to vote on a bond issue that would allow the district to address many of these capacity needs.


This web page provides information for the community related to SLCSD's facilities and capacity needs and the question that will appear on the ballot December 11. Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions and other updates.


Community Survey Indicates Strong Support for SLCSD Addressing Capacity Needs


Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find answers to several frequently asked questions related to the Storm Lake Community School District's efforts to address its capacity and facilities needs. If you have further questions, please contact us.  


What are the Storm Lake Community School District’s needs?

Currently, the district is experiencing the greatest pressure on its capacity at the elementary and middle school levels. Our middle school will be over capacity by 150 students this year. As a result, a portion of the media center was converted into a space for a literacy intervention classroom.


This school year, there are 918 students attending our elementary school. That marks a 22 percent increase from the 2009-10 school year. It also places the elementary school nearly 150 students over capacity, despite the fact that it is only about 10 years old. It is approaching a point at which it might not have enough space for a class of kindergarten students in the near future.


For instance, due to a lack of space, one fourth-grade classroom has 40 students. The national average class size in public elementary schools is 21.6, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly all grade levels in the school are significantly above the national class size average.


Having such a large number of students in a single classroom means that students do not receive the individual attention they often need. While our teachers do an incredible job providing exceptional instruction in these classrooms, there are inevitable disruptions that occur.


Why does the district have these needs?

The capacity needs in Storm Lake schools stem from the considerable growth of our community in recent years. Unlike many rural Iowa communities, Storm Lake has experienced a growing population. This has led to rapidly increasing enrollment in our schools, which has placed significant pressure on our current facilities and spaces.


While the district and board have worked hard to be fiscally conservative and make the most of taxpayers’ investments in our schools, the board believes the time has come to address SLCSD's capacity needs and help ensure its legacy continues well into the future.


What has the district done so far to address these needs?

As a short-term solution, the district has been using portable classrooms and temporarily converting shared spaces in our elementary and middle schools to regular classroom spaces. However, this is a poor long-term option when it comes to providing a positive learning environment. Portables are also less safe than a conventional school building, and our current school grounds have limited space for them.


We are also using shared spaces for instructional space. This is not ideal due to the noise and distractions caused by students traveling through different parts of the building during the school day.


This, in turn, also creates a crunch on available storage space. Teachers and staff must get creative with how they store supplies and equipment. It's common to find our hallways filled with items that would typically be stored in rooms or closets.


Is Open Enrollment a contributing factor to these capacity issues?

The state of Iowa's Open Enrollment law allows students to attend schools outside of their home districts. In the 2017-18 school year, SLCSD welcomed 113 open enrolled students to our schools, while 47 students who live in our district chose to open enroll in non-SLCSD public schools.


Although open enrollment provides us with considerable benefits, it is not a cause of nor a solution to our capacity challenges.


Will the community get a chance to vote on this?

Yes, the Board of Education has approved a resolution to place a bond issue (or referendum) on the December 11 special election ballot. Residents who live within the boundaries of the Storm Lake Community School District will have an opportunity to vote on the bond issue at that time. Per state law, the bond issue requires approval from at least 60 percent of voters to pass.


Who can vote in the December 11 election?

All residents who live within the boundaries of the Storm Lake Community School District can vote on the bond issue question December 11. You can find a map of the district's boundaries at this link.


Will there be opportunities for early or absentee voting?

Yes. If you are unable to vote on December 11, there will be two early satellite voting opportunities on the following dates, times and locations:

Tuesday, November 27
2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Storm Lake High School

Tuesday, December 4
2 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Storm Lake Elementary School

You may also learn more about voting via absentee ballot at 


How would SLCSD use the funds generated through the December bond issue?

If approved by voters, the bond issue would enable the district to address many of its current capacity needs by building a new Early Childhood Center through a two-phase project. The first phase would provide more space for the district’s kindergarten.  The second phase would provide space for current Early Childhood programming, including Begindergarten, B4 Kinder and special education programs, as well as first-grade students.


SLCSD's leadership and board have prioritized incorporating child-friendly features into plans for the Early Childhood Center, including windows close to the ground so that small children can see at ground level. Additional features would include:

  • Resource rooms and space for English language learners.

  • A teacher planning center and specialist areas for staff, including speech therapists.

  • A gymnasium with a separate entrance.

  • A separate driveway loop for student pick-up and drop-off.


The district’s long-term plan is to have prekindergarten through first grade in the Early Childhood Center, second through fifth grade at the elementary school and sixth through eighth grade at the middle school.


Why did the district choose the site in question as the focus of its attention?

The district began the site selection process by taking a comprehensive look at more than 10 sites in Storm Lake. It prioritized several considerations, including proximity to existing facilities, future city development, site utilities, topography, size and cost.


Throughout this vetting process, a facilities committee reviewed potential sites and provided feedback to help in the decision. Once the options were narrowed to three, each site was further evaluated using additional criteria. The district was able to determine that all three sites would be feasible options.


At that point, the district worked with its realtor to begin discussions with property owners. The final site was selected based on these conversations.


The site is located near the intersection of 90th Avenue and W. Milwaukee Avenue, just north of the Hope Evangelical Free Church. The property would be accessed from 90th Avenue. This site offers several key advantages for the school district, including:

  • Adequate size for the building, site circulation and outdoor play areas

  • Proximity to existing elementary and middle school, as parents and buses would not be required to drive across town to drop off siblings

  • Ability to have three site access points to separate car and bus traffic and provide a safe drop-off and pick-up sequence

  • Flat site for construction, with drainage to the east

  • Preferred site by the facilities committee


How will the district manage traffic flow, considering that the new building will be located so close to two other schools?

Working with our consultant, ISG, the district will conduct a traffic study while school is in session to determine if we can incorporate a new stoplight at the intersection of Highway 7 and Abner Bell Road to better manage traffic.


The study will examine the intersection of 90th Ave. and Milwaukee Ave. to determine how that intersection would grade once the new school is in place. The grade will determine if improvements are necessary. If so, the district will work with IADOT to implement and fund the improvements.


The site will have three entrances from 90th Street. Two of the entrances will have two lanes for exiting the site. One lane will be right-turn only, while the other lane will be left-turn only. The south entrance will primarily serve student drop-off, the center entrance will provide for preschool and access to the parking lot and the north entrance will be for staff, buses and service.  


Splitting the site into three locations, will help minimize car and bus crossover, as well as help prevent vehicles backing up at one entrance. The design team is working with the county and city to determine if 90th Avenue will need improvements, as well.


Why didn't the board wait to place a bond issue on the ballot in February, when we will know how the state will act on SAVE?

Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) is state-level funding allocated for school infrastructure projects only. The state legislature has yet to extend this funding, but we hope that it does take action in its 2019 session.


In reviewing its options, the Board of Education considered waiting to place a bond issue on the ballot until early 2019. However, it decided against this action because it would place the district behind the best bid season for the construction bidding market and not allow for opening the facility at the beginning of the school calendar year.


An approved bond issue in February, for example, would mean that bidding documents would go out in March. This is a period beyond the typical bidding season for most general contractors. Because of this, the district would likely not receive the best possible bids, thereby increasing the costs of construction and renovation.


Additionally, waiting until February could also push back our timeline for projects, as there is a high possibility that we would have to wait for contractors to finish other projects before starting ours.


Finally, based on the time required to design, draw and construct the new building, waiting until February would not allow the district to move into the new facility at the start of a school year. A suboptimal mid-semester or mid-year move-in would be required.


Due to these factors, the board decided to place the question on the ballot for December 11, 2018.


If the bond issue does not pass, what would it mean for the school district's facilities and planning?

If the bond issue does not pass in December, the district plans to increase its use of portable classrooms to meet the space demands of increasing enrollment. This would likely happen first at the middle school. However, due to an easement and a water line at the site, we would be unable to add more portables in the same area where the school already has two of these structures.


To that end, the district would likely eliminate the playground at the north end of the building and/or place portable classrooms on the current middle school practice football field. It's important to note that the district would look to keep portables as close to the main school building as possible to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for students.


At the elementary school, the district has already removed shared space in the kindergarten area to accommodate more classroom space. If we continue to see high enrollment, we would look to make music classes mobile, with the music teacher traveling to classrooms instead of having a dedicated classroom. We may also add portable classrooms to the elementary school.


What is an Early Childhood Center and why is it needed in Storm Lake?

The Early Childhood Center provides instruction to preschool-aged children. It is different than a daycare in that it emphasizes educational activities that enhance students’ cognitive and social development before they enter kindergarten.


In Storm Lake, we have three early childhood programs:

  • Begindergarten: This program follows the Kindergarten Common Cores Standards and is designed for students who are kindergarten age, but might not have had prior preschool experiences or may be best served by an additional year of learning.

  • Be 4 Kindergarten: Funded by the state of Iowa through a Shared Vision Grant or State Wide Voluntary Preschool Programming, this program serves four-year-old students.

  • Early Childhood Special Education: ECSE is for children ages 3-5 who qualify for special education services. The focus is on social skill development, pre-readiness skills and language skill development.


How do we know the Storm Lake Community School District won't outgrow a new Early Childhood Center in 10 years, creating the need for a larger facility?

The preliminary design of the Early Childhood Center is based on the school district's growth patterns for the foreseeable future. In developing these plans, the district has worked to balance our need for more space with the needs of our local taxpayers.


Why are portable classrooms a poor solution?

The main challenge with portable classrooms is that they disrupt the routine of the school day. Placing more portables on a school site means we have less space for lunch, recess and specials classes. This is difficult to measure, but has a significant impact on our students. In addition, portables can be less safe than a school building.


What happens if bids come in too high?

If the district and board find that bids come in too high, we will ask our architect, DLR Group, to redraw its designs so that the building fits within the proposed budget.


Would the bond issue provide for staff raises?

No. If approved, the bond issue funds could only be used to fund projects to increase our capacity and better prepare our facilities for the years to come. The funds would not be used to give raises to teachers, administrators or other staff members.


If approved, how much money would the bond issue provide the district?

The bond issue on the December 11 ballot will ask community members to approve up to $29,000,000 in general obligation bonds that would go toward funding projects to expand the school district’s capacity, especially at the Early Childhood, elementary and middle school levels.


How would this bond issue affect my property taxes?

If passed, the bond issue would result in an estimated tax impact of $148.15 on every $100,000 of assessed property value per year. The table below provides more information and context on the tax impact on residential, commercial and agricultural property in the Storm Lake Community School District:


The table below illustrates the impact of an approved bond issue on farmland in the district. It is important to note that assessed property value, and not market value, determines property taxes.

What are the plans for the East Elementary property?

While the district and board are still reviewing options for the East Elementary School property, initial plans call for selling the property once the two-phase project is complete.  


How would the district cover the costs of additional staffing for a new school?

Due to thorough financial planning, the school district is in a good position to cover the expenses of this project beyond the dollars provided through a potential bond issue. We have also engaged in planning to accommodate additional staff for a new building in the next several years. 


Will all of the funding for these projects come from property tax assessments, or will the district request an increase in the Iowa income tax surtax rate?

SLCSD has no plans to increase the Iowa income surtax rate. If approved, all funding from the project would come from property tax assessments. 


Do you have a question not addressed here? We invite you to submit your question.