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120518-PPEL-006

PPEL funds were used to refurbish the auditorium including reupholstering the seats, finishing stage work and adding new curtains and LED lighting, shown Dec. 5 at Madison Elementary School in Davenport.

When Davenport residents hit the polls on Tuesday, they’ll be voting to renew and raise the district’s PPEL. The 10-year levy expires June 30, and the district is asking to increase the rate from $0.97 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation to $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That rate, if passed, would stand for 10 years.

The levy requires a simple majority of more than 50 percent to pass.

The $1.34 per $1,000 rate is the legal maximum for the voter-approved portion of PPEL — the other portion, $0.33 per $1,000, is approved by the school board — but Wood said that maximum rate was “typical for the area.” Muscatine, Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley are all already at that rate.

“We would not, by any means, be the only district at the maximum,” Wood said.

Because the voter-approved portion for schools is only a part of the levy, the effect of the total levy won’t be determined until the board votes in the spring. Wood said it was “hard to say if it’ll go up, down [or] stay the same” overall.

If the voter-approved levy doesn’t pass, the district can bring it forward again, perhaps at a different rate, in February. If that fails too, Wood said the district’s PPEL funding would be at the “bare bones.”

“We need the PPEL fund to be able to keep our facilities in good working order,” she said. “ … And be able to pay for those things that are allowed for that, without PPEL, we could pay for out of the general fund, like the technology purchases. But that’s the fund where we’re having to make some pretty drastic reductions.”

Davenport schools are implementing a two-year plan to cut $13 million from its budget, as ordered by the state for overspending its spending authority for the past three years. Because these cuts must come from the general fund — and 80 to 85 percent of the fund is used to pay for staff — 83 certified staff members must be cut, either through early retirement, natural attrition or layoffs.

PPEL funds have strict stipulations. They cannot, for instance, be used to pay staff salaries. Generally, they are used for purchasing, improving and constructing grounds and facilities, as well as paying for transportation equipment and purchasing or leasing equipment or technology, exceeding $500.

“None of it’s real glamorous,” Wood said.

Technology is a special priority for Davenport, and was recently listed in a superintendent search survey as one of the district’s top-five strengths.

“We have gotten to the point where we have what we call one to one: There’s a laptop, a Chromebook, some type of electronic device — one for every student,” Wood said. “If you’ve ever had a laptop or a tablet, you know they don’t last forever. We try to have a thoughtful replacement cycle to maintain that. … We try to make sure we’ve got the types of technology that are best preparing our students for going out into the world. That’s our job.”

In the past, PPEL funds have been used renovate ceilings, install energy-efficient LED lights, renovate and modernize the Madison Elementary School auditorium, replace flooring, roofing and HVAC, renovate the swimming pool at Central High School and maintain and improve playgrounds.

According to the district’s press release, PPEL funds are slated to be used for similar projects, plus leasing school bus equipment, bathroom renovations, radios for security guards, software licenses and “district-wide support for athletics.”

“I think it’s really important that our facilities are kept in the great shape they are for the overall conducive learning environment for our students,” Wood said. “They shouldn’t be in a building that’s run-down and just not pleasant to be in.”

Steve Imming, a former school board member, has been encouraging residents to contact their friends and neighbors to let them know about the vote.

“This is relatively unknown. … I called some people and they didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “Asked them if they would call their neighbors so they knew about it. The school district is not in a particularly positive place right now. That’s just one more reason people might vote against this. I just wanted to do what I could to support it.”

While Imming recognized the district was “not in a good situation,” he hoped people would put the kids first.

“I’m hoping people recognize the importance of this. There may be people, empty nesters, out there wondering why they should support schools because they don’t have any children there anymore, but this is a part of our future. People supported their children when they went to school, so we need to recognize this is about the students,” he said. “It’s not about the school board or the administration.”

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