The Davenport School District has taken its lumps lately.
Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Education cited it for multiple violations of the federal law dealing with the education of children with disabilities.
In October, Superintendent Art Tate suddenly announced his departure, months earlier than had been planned.
That was followed by the announcement last month the state would initiate more intensive scrutiny of the district's finances. And just last week, the school board agreed to significant budget cuts over the next year and a half to compensate for spending more than the state allows.
The Quad-Cities' largest school district already faced hurdles before these problems arose. Enrollment is declining and state funding, a major revenue source, has been stingy for years.
Nevertheless, the past couple of months have been especially difficult. Some of this is on the school district. The shortcomings cited in the special education audit are real, and the consequences of the spending decisions made with Tate at the helm are now becoming evident.
Still, we don't think solving the school district's difficulties are made any easier by taking away a key mechanism to pay for basic building repairs. So, on Tuesday, we urge voters to go to the polls and cast their ballot to approve the continuation of, and increase in, the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy.
The levy, a tax on property that currently stands at 97 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, raises about $4.5 million per year. It is scheduled to expire next June, so the district is asking voters to extend it another 10 years and bump it up to $1.34 per $1,000.
That would add an additional $1.5 million to the district's coffers.
The district uses this money for things like roof repairs, HVAC upgrades, playgrounds, security camera licenses and technology upgrades, among other things. The fund was tapped, for example, to pay to upholster seats, improve lighting and make other changes at the auditorium at Madison Elementary School, which is pictured above.
The district did use some of the fund's proceeds for the pool and auditorium project at Central High School. But, by and large, this is about maintaining the buildings and facilities.
These funds, by law, are restricted to building projects. But if the authority to continue levying this tax is lost, the PPEL fund would be cut by 75 percent, leaving only enough money for emergency repairs, the district says. (The district also levies a property tax of about 33 cents per $1,000 for the PPEL fund, which does not need voter approval.)
We don’t need to tell anybody who lives in Davenport that the district’s school buildings are older than many of those in other districts across Scott County — districts that aren't losing students. Bettendorf's and Pleasant Valley's voter-approved PPEL levies already are at $1.34, according to state data.
These older buildings in Davenport must be maintained. And without these PPEL funds, there would be added pressure on the district’s general fund to pay for building projects. The district told us the other day that without these Physical Plant and Equipment funds, the general fund that pays for staff salaries and the like could take a $1 million hit.
No doubt, Davenport has issues that must be resolved. It is in the midst of searching for a new superintendent who we are hopeful will help turn the page to a newer, brighter future for the district.
But we also believe, as a parent and former colleague of ours wrote on these pages last week, there are a lot of good things happening in the district, much of it because of hundreds of hardworking educators and other staff.
We don't want to see their jobs made any more difficult.