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 two questions that will appear on the ballot December 11. Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions and other updates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All residents who live within the boundaries of the Storm Lake Community School District can vote on the bond issue questions December 11. You can find a map of the district's boundaries at this link.
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 https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/electioninfo/absenteeinfo.html.
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.
Below you will find the proposed design and layout of the Early Childhood Center:
The district's architect has created the proposed building layout based on a standard, modular panel dimension, which allows for repetition and potentially reduced costs when it comes to fabricating panels for the building.
In addition, standard steel beam sizes and lengths are utilized throughout the roof framing system. This means that all roof framing is a simple rectangular shape, except for two areas: the cafeteria and the collaboration spaces.
Although most of the corners on the perimeter of the building have 90-degree angles, there are four exceptions. These minimal angles have been strategically incorporated into the design to allow for collaborative learning environments and to maximize learning spaces. The use of non-90 degree angles in the design does not add significant costs to the proposed Early Childhood Center.
The design team worked closely with the facilities committee to create a learning environment that supports many different learning and teaching methods. The goal was to create a building that allowed for every space to be used as a learning space.
In a traditional school layout, classrooms are lined up along each side of a corridor. That corridor space is not conducive to teaching and learning, and is inefficient in its use throughout the school day. In contrast, creating a large, rectangular, oversized circulation space is cost-prohibitive due to the excessive square footage. It also provides little variety for differentiated learning environments.
Working with the committee, the designer incorporated a standard angle to the circulation space. This provides a solution that is cost conscious, varies the collaborative learning environment and ensures that every space can be used as a learning space. It achieves the district's goals for teaching and learning while making the most of taxpayers' investment.
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
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.
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 questions on the ballot for December 11, 2018.
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.
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.
Learn more about early childhood learning in the videos below:
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.
The simple answer is: we cannot. We are unable to move ahead with major expansions to the elementary or middle school sites due to water lines and easements on the property. Additionally, when expanding, we must consider state and federal rules that mandate the services we provide to our students.
If the district were to add classrooms to the elementary and/or middle school, we would also need to consider adding new gyms and cafeterias to accommodate the growth. At this time, the elementary school begins serving lunch at 10:30 a.m., which is already quite early. Without added cafeteria space, this schedule would be strained even further, which is not a reasonable and prudent outcome for our students.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SLCSD's tax levy rate has declined significantly since 2011, even with rapidly increasing enrollment. Between 2011 and 2019, the rate has dropped by about 15 percent.
While the district and board have been fiscally conservative over the past decade, board members believe that now is the time to address capacity needs in Storm Lake schools. If passed, the bond issue would lead to a tax rate at about the same level as the 2011-12 school year.
The chart below illustrates the district's levy rate from 2000 to present, including the projected rate if the bond issue passes:
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.
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.
SLCSD has no plans to increase the Iowa income surtax rate. If approved, all funding from the project would come from property tax assessments.
In assessing the district's financial situation, the board decided to propose a solution that would build a new project in two stages. This is largely due to a debt limit of 5 percent of total assessed property values. In Storm Lake, this equates to a cap of $37.5 million. The district also has remaining debt from previous projects at the elementary and high schools, leaving it with an available debt limit of about $20.5 million.
According to the district's financial projections, SLCSD will have the necessary debt capacity to take on the second phase of the proposed project by the 2021-22 school year.
Projects may also be financed through the general fund, SAVE (a one-cent statewide sales tax program), a voted Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) and donations. Due to the remaining debt limit, there is little flexibility to use SAVE or a voted PPEL for the proposed project at this time.
The total project cost, with both phases, is currently estimated to be approximately $37.5 million. The General Obligation (GO) Bond proceeds would only be funding a portion of that cost—although it’s a major portion. In addition to the GO Bond proceeds, the board expects to issue sales tax bonds in the amount of approximately $6,040,000. It would combine that with about $2.1 million from General Fund surplus balances and $2.7 million in accumulated sales tax and PPEL funds.
If the GO Bond component can ultimately be at the maximum authorized amount of $29 million, some amount of either sales tax and PPEL surplus and/or General Fund contribution may be lessened to preserve those funds for other needs in the future.
If voters approve the bond questions, the district would bond for up to, but not more than, $29 million for the next 22 years to build a new Early Childhood Center through a two-phase project. If the construction project were to be delayed or take longer than anticipated, it is possible that the total repayment could be spread over 23 years. Currently, it is projected to be repaid over 22 years.
It’s worth noting that the $29 million does not include interest. Therefore, the total cost of the project depends on how quickly the district can pay off its debt.
This process works similar to a home mortgage. If you buy a home for $150,000, it could cost almost $300,000 in principal and interest over a 30-year mortgage. While this is common, homebuyers typically do not say they are buying a $150,000 home for $300,000. Instead, they take out a loan to finance a $150,000 home. The homeowner's goal is to make payments on the mortgage ahead of time to reduce the overall cost.
As it relates to the SLCSD bonds, if a total of $27,235,000 in principal were to be issued (the current projection), a total of approximately $42.8 million could be needed for the repayment of both principal and interest over a 22-year period. However, if the district can ultimately issue the entire $29,000,000 within the levy limitations, there may be approximately $45.6 million used for the repayment of both principal and interest over a 22-year period. The actual amounts of interest in any scenario will be subject to the actual interest rates assigned on the day of each respective bond sale.
Once the other pods are built, kindergartners would move to allow our youngest learners (pre-K) access to the first phase, which would be closest to the main entry. We would want these students to have the shortest routes to their classrooms.
When the school district built the new elementary school in 2009, it did so based on SLCSD's enrollment projections at that time. Due to numerous factors, the district's enrollment has continued to outpace its projections. In addition, enrollment can be difficult to predict, especially in a more rural part of the state.
While enrollment has continued to increase in Storm Lake over many years, we know that housing is limited. That could eventually bring a ceiling to the rapid growth we’ve experienced.
In Iowa, the law gives school districts four dates from which to hold a special election. In an even-numbered year, those options are:
First Tuesday in February
First Tuesday in April
Second Tuesday in September
Second Tuesday in December
Storm Lake’s bond vote is Tuesday, December 11.
The following is the current configuration of Storm Lake schools:
Early Childhood Center at East: Pre-kindergarten
Elementary School: Kindergarten to 4th grade
Middle School: Grades 5-8
High School: Grades 9-12
The long-term plan is as follows:
New Early Childhood Center: Pre-K to 1st grade
Elementary School: Grades 2-5
Middle School: Grades 6-8
High School: Grades 9-12
On December 11, residents will have an opportunity to vote on a bond issue that would allow the district to address many of its capacity needs. If approved, the bond would provide funding for a two-phase project that would open up more space for kindergarten, Begindergarten, B4 Kinder, special education programs and first grade. It would also serve to alleviate overcrowding concerns at the elementary and middle school, as kindergarten and first grade would ultimately move to the new Early Childhood Center. Fifth-grade students would then shift to the elementary school.
Currently, the district does not have the capacity to provide a great deal of specialized instruction in a dedicated, quiet learning space. The new Early Childhood Center would be an adaptive facility supporting all ways young children learn. Students and staff would have access to:
14 core classrooms
Title I classrooms
Special needs classroom
Teacher planning center
Small group room
The state of Iowa mandates that public schools educate a child starting at age six, or if the child is at least four years old and enrolled in a statewide preschool program. Currently, there is no statewide preschool program. Therefore, the Storm Lake Community School District technically does not have to begin educating students until they reach age six, which is first grade for most children.
In short, SLCSD and virtually all districts in Iowa serve students below the age the state technically mandates, as most kindergarten students are under the age of six. The SLCSD board believes that offering early childhood education is important to the health and vitality of the Storm Lake community.
We encourage you to learn more about the benefits of early childhood education by reading this RAND study.
In assessing the district's financial situation, the board decided to propose a solution that would build a new project in two stages. This is largely due to a debt limit of 5 percent of total assessed property values. In Storm Lake, this equates to a cap of $37.5 million. The district also has remaining debt from previous projects at the elementary and high schools, leaving it with a debt limit of about $20.5 million.
According to the district's financial projections, SLCSD will have the necessary debt capacity to take on the second phase of the proposed project by the 2021-22 school year.
The December 11 special election ballot will have two questions for voters' consideration.
Question #1 asks residents to approve a $29 million bond issue that would allow the district to move forward on a two-phase project to address its capacity needs. This includes building a new Early Childhood Center and providing more space for kindergarten, Begindergarten, B4 Kinder, special education and first grade students.
Question #2 seeks approval for the district to increase its debt service beyond the level of $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value, per Iowa state law. It would be necessary for the district to increase its debt service to fund the projects outlined above.
In short, 60 percent of voters must approve each question for the district to move ahead on these proposed projects.
Currently, there remains $17,837,000 in principal outstanding on the district's previous projects. This includes $11,440,000 in outstanding sales tax revenue bonds repaid from the statewide one-penny tax, $4,350,000 in outstanding PPEL notes repaid from a portion of the voter-approved $1.34 Physical Plant & Equipment Levy and $2,047,000 in outstanding General Obligation bonds repaid from a property tax levy of $1.13239 in Fiscal Year 2019 ($1.13195 in FY18.)
While we can never predict the future, we know that Tyson has continued to expand its workforce in the Storm Lake area over the past decade. In addition, the community is home to numerous major employers, including Rembrandt Enterprises, BVRMC and Buena Vista University.
The district and board have had discussions with officials from Tyson. We have no reason to believe the company plans to move out of Storm Lake or reduce the number of employees at its local facilities in the near future.
We share the vision of our local officials and community members in positioning ourselves to be the place where people want to live, work and learn. If recent trends are any indication, the workforce of the future will be made up of professionals who can work remotely, without having to commute to an office or workplace close to them.
Storm Lake is already a community with a global feel combined with a friendly, small-town environment. We are also within driving distance to larger communities with a variety of entertainment options. To attract new families and expand our local economy, however, we must first offer a truly great school system.