Courier Staff Writer
The Ottumwa school board narrowed the list of names for the new elementary school from three to two.
Board members bounced between “Liberty Elementary School” or “Fahrney Elementary School,” though they could not come to a consensus at their meeting Monday night.
“Fahrney was brought up as another name due to all the scholarships the Fahrney family has given to all of the students current and in the past,” said board president Carol Mitchell.
Besides a military and patriotic significance, Liberty has some historical significance in Wapello County.
There used to be a country school in Keokuk Township called Liberty near Forest Lake Camp.
A former school board member, Mary Hoff, also suggested naming the new school after a former board member, Jack Staebler, or an educator, Willis Ahrens.
Board vice president Payson Moreland said he couldn’t think of a more fitting name for the school than Fahrney due to the $5.5 million in scholarships the family has awarded to 2,800 students over the years.
“The thing I like about it is it has meaning,” Moreland said. “Liberty does because it was an old school, but Fahrney has history and meaning to it. I think that’s kind of important.”
Board member Jeff Strunk said he understood the significance of the Fahrney name, but Liberty holds meaning for everyone in the community.
“Liberty, to me, has quite a bit of meaning when you attach it to the military, not just our guard unit, who is doing more than what was probably ever expected of those guard units when they were first established,” Strunk said. “These World War II veterans are dying off by the day, by the month. That word, ‘liberty,’ to them at that time period and to the country meant so much more than I think gets lost in translation of what it really means to people today.”
Another thing to consider, Strunk said, is the young children going to this school only know the United States as a nation at war.
While he said he would not object to the school being named Fahrney, he wanted to let people know why Liberty was not a “dumb name, a ‘blah’ name.”
Both board members Ron Oswalt and Cindy Kurtz-Hopkins said they were on the fence between Fahrney and Liberty.
“I think either name is going to be a good name, so I’m not upset either way we go,” Moreland said.
The board also discussed three different scenarios for the upcoming school year’s budget, depending on whether the Iowa Legislature approves zero, 2 or 4 percent allowable growth.
Currently, the school district is operating on a nearly $35.5 million budget, with the state funding $6,001 per student.
If the state approves zero percent allowable growth, the school district’s budget would increase more than $118,000; if 2 percent is approved, the district’s budget would increase more than $833,000; and if 4 percent is approved, the district’s budget would increase more than $1.8 million.
Enrollment in the Ottumwa Community School District increased only slightly this year, by 0.4 percent, or approximately 18 students. The official enrollment count is done on Oct. 1 every year and on Nov. 1 for special education students.
“We collect money based on that one snapshot account,” said financial consultant John Donner, even if the district gains or loses students after that date.
If the Legislature goes with the Iowa House’s proposed 2 percent allowable growth, the Ottumwa district would see $120 more per student. If they go with the Iowa Senate’s proposed 4 percent allowable growth, the district would see double that, or $240 more per student.
But even at 4 percent, the district would lose $60,000 in funding for the special education program. And with the Early Intervention Grant expected to sunset at the end of this year (unless the Legislature renews it), the district would lose every penny of the more than $300,000 it receives from the grant.
Currently, the district collects nearly $11 million in property taxes. If the Legislature approves zero percent allowable growth, the property tax rate would decrease 18 cents; if 2 percent is approved, the property tax rate would decrease 14 cents; and if 4 percent is approved, the property tax rate would decrease 6 cents. All tax rates are cents per thousand dollars.
“You can always lower tax rates, but you can never raise them [once the budget is approved],” Donner said.
Donner encouraged the board to consider implementing the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which Ottumwa has not levied since 2004.
“The component you’re looking at is 33 cents per thousand dollars the board can generate without any questions asked,” Donner said. “The things we’re looking for there is to enhance technology.”
Statewide, only 28 school districts do not levy this tax.
Donner said the Ottumwa district is close to the statewide average in terms of its tax rates.
“We walk a tight line with what services we provide kids and at what rate we tax the property taxpayers,” Donner said.