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Cedar Rapids School Officials Consider Another PPEL Vote

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Leaders at the Cedar Rapids Community School District are trying to figure out what to do about regular school maintenance and repairs needed at buildings in the future. That's after district voters on Tuesday turned down an expansion and extension of the current Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL).

Fifty-seven percent of voters in the school district turned down a new levy, 43 percent voted to approved it. A simple majority was needed to pass.

PPEL money is used by school districts for regular maintenance and smaller improvements at buildings. The proposed levy for Cedar Rapids would have increased property taxes from 67 cents per $1,000 of valuation to the state maximum of $1.34. The current PPEL for Cedar Rapids Schools expires June 30, 2015. School district voters had approved the levy extension for ten year periods, three times previously.

Dave Benson, Cedar Rapids Superintendent, said because the current levy doesn't expire for nearly two years, there will be time to ask district voters to reconsider. He expects to ask the Cedar Rapids school board to consider another vote. Whether the board will consider a levy request for the larger amount, the current amount or something in between isn't certain yet.

PPEL doesn't pay for the big expansions that get so much publicity. For example, the district used local option sales tax (LOST) money to pay for a $1.5-million dollar new cafeteria at Jefferson High School that was opened last month.

By contrast, the PPEL fund did pay for a $25,000 parking lot upgrade at Taft Middle School this summer. Future PPEL money at Taft would replace the 1960's bleachers in the gym and renovate another set of bathrooms among other projects.

Steve Graham, the Cedar Rapids School District business manager, said PPEL is critical because it funds the year in, year out needs of district buildings.

"We want roofs that don't leak, we want doors that don't leak air [and] that aren't falling off their hinges. We want carpeting replaced and sidewalks safe for students to walk on," Graham said.

Other eastern Iowa districts already collect the maximum PPEL money to provide funding for school maintenance work. Six districts in the Interstate 380 corridor had PPEL funding on the school ballots. Cedar Rapids was the only district failing to pass a new PPEL. Finding out the reason a majority in Cedar Rapids said "no" would allow the district to better plan a next step. One grandparent picking up a student at Taft, Barb Stuhle, said she thinks it's simply a question of high taxes all around.

"I know my taxes are awfully high where I live. I think that's a lot of it," Stuhle said.

"When you ask for tax increases, you have to make the case. If we didn't make the case appropriately, it's incumbent on us to go back and reevaluate and to try to make the case better the next time,"
Superintendent Benson added.

Benson said the most likely dates for a new PPEL vote for Cedar Rapids would be some time in either February or April of next year.

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