by Steve Peterson
Akron-Westfield Shared Superintendent Randy Collins, Grades Preschool-Six Cathy Bobier and Grades 7-12 Derek Briggs explained the school’s Physical Plant & Equipment Levy (PPEL) tax proposal to Akron Senior Center attendees on Aug. 24.
This PPEL tax would generate about $160,000 annually.
Voters will decide on the school’s request at the polls from Noon to 8:00 p.m., Sept. 11, at the Akron Public Library. The School Board is asking voters to approve a $1 per $1,000 assessed taxable valuation PPEL, which would allow the effect of a transfer of $200,000 from district savings accounts to the PPEL Fund.
“We are working with our students to provide them with technology to help our students so they will be competitive and be able to work and be competitive with surrounding schools,” said Bobier. “We have a huge need to stay up on technology because of how it is being used out in the world.”
“Last year the School Board did make quite an investment in our building to increase the opportunities for students to work with technology (by installing wireless internet),” said Briggs.
“We had an opportunity to visit with some of our students who are recent graduates,” he said, “and when they head off to college and the work force, the needs that they have to be successful are requiring them to have more skills in technology.”
“Our goal is to get more technology into their hands before they graduate so they have a competitive edge with those students who are coming from other schools,” said Briggs. “By voting yes on Sept. 11, it gives us an opportunity to invest more dollars in that direction and allow us to bring our district up to speed with some of the neighboring districts.”
“What about the tax impact on the $100,000 home and the $1 million farm,” one senior citizen asked.
“In order to answer specifics on the $100,000 home and the $1 million farm, I can show you a spread sheet with your equation and specifics,” responded Collins.
“West Sioux Community School District and Akron-Westfield Community School District have had in the recent past financial challenges,” said Collins who is the superintendent for both districts. “Currently both districts are in good shape financially.
“This sounds too good to be true,” he added, “but I brought credibility in School Board Member Roger Oetken. You know him. I hope you trust our School Board.”
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” said Collins. “We will lower the tax rate. I will tell you how much less you will pay on your $100,000 home or $1 million farm.”
“Our business manager, Jodi Ryan, came to me and said, ‘Mr. Collins, we have too much cash,’” he explained. “We’re sitting there with $2 million that we can’t use. The state is looking at it and may take it away from us. What I want to do is I want to move it to where the state can’t get at it. It’s all legal. You have to know how the system works.”
“We can take $200,000 out of this pile of cash and we can buy the tax rate down, about 30 cents,” said Collins. “If you give me $1, I will give you $1.30 back. How often would you like to do it?”
The tax rate from you approving the school district’s PPEL will lower your taxes but your tax rate also includes tax levies from the county, the state, and other government agencies, too, he explained. “We (the school district) have lowered the rate the last two years, by $1 (mill levy) each year, and we will lower the rate again, by 30 cents.”
“I am asking you to help us help our kids,” said Collins. “Right now, we’re behind. I have been very open with this with the staff, I told them, ‘we’re in trouble. Ninety percent of the teachers shook their head (in agreement).”
Akron-Westfield is like an island,” he said. “We’re surrounded by sharks, and these sharks are 1:1 laptop computer schools. Our kids are going to leave and go to neighboring districts because they can get a computer, a laptop and 21st Century instruction.”
“This is a computer, a phone, and e-mail,” said Collins, holding up a small Smart phone. “Remember the old days, a computer would take up half this room. This is what we have to get to our kids. (When the Class of 2013 graduates next Spring, I told them they will not be competing with each other anymore. They will compete with other people from India, China, Canada, and from all over the globe.”
“They aren’t going to get good jobs (if they don’t learn the technology),” he said. “What will happen here? If students leave, this school will close, and what will happen to our community? It is a slippery slope.”
“That (PPEL) is $160,000 a year for technology for 10 years,” said Collins. “We will use that money, and we will give our kids the very best so they can be competitive. Kids will want to come to our school.”
“That’s is what we’re all about Sept. 11,” said Collins. “We will buy the tax rate down by $1.30 if you approve this PPEL for $1. Your tax rate will go down by 30 cents.”
“We have talked to some of our kids going to college and as far as Reading, Writing, Mathematics, the traditional subjects, our kids are doing great,” he said. “It is with technology and its expectations (that we’re behind). Students are being asked to do things we haven’t trained them to do.”
Laptops, Smart Boards in classrooms and “punch a button” and communicate with anyone in the world, and Skyping with Internet access (is what our kids need),” said Collins. “Neighboring districts are going 1:1. West Sioux went 1:1 last year. It means 1:1: every kid, in certain grades, gets a computer. They can take it home, take it to class, and teachers teach using that technology. It changes instruction a lot.”
“One arrangement we already have made is people in the community have donated funds to the Parent-Teacher Association, and we purchased 30 iPads for the elementary to share, said Briggs. “Kids can get exposed to that technology. This will not take the place of a teacher; what it will do is help teachers expose students to technologies that will help them learn better. “
“I have a six-year old,” he said, “and we have an I-pad at home. He is learning numbers and sounds and sight work, all on the iPad and he is so excited. It is a different format and it is great because of how interactive it is.”
Responding to a senior citizens’ concern, Briggs said students can learn to make change and count it back but in elective courses.
Seniors seemed generally positive about the school’s technology plans if the PPEL is approved.
“We have such a wonderful bunch of bright children, we should give them everything that can help them,” a senior citizen said.