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Water Quality Bill could impact Cedar Rapids schools facilities

The Cedar Rapids School Board unanimously decided to overhaul its 21 elementary schools on...
The Cedar Rapids School Board unanimously decided to overhaul its 21 elementary schools on Monday, January 22, 2018. (Jordee Kalk/KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Jan. 24, 2018 at 12:13 PM CST
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A bill to fight pollution in Iowa's rivers and streams could end up costing school districts and impact funding for the Cedar Rapids schools plan to rebuild 10 elementary schools and close 8 others. But the district says it needs to wait and see.

The Iowa legislature sent a Water Quality bill to Governor Kim Reynolds desk this week. It would establish a $282 million fund over 12 years to pay for water quality projects.

Proponents call it a first step to fixing Iowa's water quality issues but critics say there is a lack of oversight on how that money is spent and where it comes from. That's because the fund comes from shifting money from existing programs. Part of the money comes from a program called SAVE, which funds infrastructure for school districts across the state.

SAVE is a key funding source for the Cedar Rapids School Districts new elementary facilities plan, which the school board approved on Monday night. That plan calls for rebuilding 10 elementary schools with bigger buildings over 20 years and closing 8 other schools permanently. Because of SAVE funding, in part, the district has said it will not need to pass a bond vote to pay for all of that work.

In a statement to KCRG-TV9, Cedar Rapids Schools Director of Communications, Aki Nji, said the district plans to monitor any changes in SAVE funding and impacts that has on district projects.

"While the penny for SAVE is no longer applied to the metered water transactions, tax reform and expanded sales tax to apply to internet sales and other services could actually increase SAVE," Nji said in the statement. "There are a number of variables that could impact implementation costs over the life of the plan: building square footage, finishes in the schools, bidding environments, and growth in the economy, to name a few."

In debate before approving the plan, Cedar Rapids school officials had said the plan was more of a guide and not set in stone. That means the specific schools, timeline and scope of building projects could change as circumstances change.