The Waterloo school dis-
trict is appealing to voters for support, hoping that enough will change their minds on an upcoming levy request to provide the schools with their first new funding since 1995.
If they fail to do so, the likelihood of state intervention becomes more probable. If the state steps in, local control over the school district and the programs and services it provides to the young people of Atwater and Randolph will be significantly diminished. And, contrary to what some may believe, state takeover will not magically relieve the district of its financial obligations. More -- and larger -- levy requests will appear on the ballot until the financial situation is stabilized.
The 5.9-mill emergency operating levy on the Feb. 5 special election ballot will generate about $939,500 per year. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $180 in additional annual property taxes.
The additional revenue is vitally needed for Waterloo to cover basic operating expenses and avoid going into the red.
The Waterloo district has cut $2 million from an $11 million budget in the past two years, and school officials say there is little left to cut. Personnel and programs have been reduced, with teaching levels close to state minimum standards. Class sizes have increased.
The reductions have affected the quality of education. Waterloo was rated as "Excellent With Distinction" on its state report card, but in the past two years has dropped two rating levels, to "Effective." "There's only so much that can be done with a bare minimum," said Superintendent Andrew Hill.
Waterloo voters have turned down six levy requests in three years, the most recent being in November when a 5-mill levy was on the ballot. The 5.9-mill levy on the Feb. 5 ballot is a larger request to make up for a year's worth of tax revenues lost because of the failure of the levy last fall. Future levy requests will be even larger.
Without additional funding, Waterloo faces a struggle to maintain minimum state academic standards. Failure to do so could move the district into a fiscal emergency situation, which would put the state, rather than locally elected authorities, in charge of the district.
Loss of state control will not improve the quality of education in Waterloo nor will it free the district of its financial obligations. A "Yes" vote on the school levy is strongly recommended.