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Finance - December 2016
By Gary Becker

Gary_Becker_12_smThe Cedar Rapids School District has undertaken an ambitious effort to thoughtfully and thoroughly plan for the future infrastructure needs of the District.  Upon gathering 100 volunteers from varied backgrounds and experiences, those volunteers were split into several committees to provide input and analysis as to the overarching priorities that should be considered as part of the facilities planning.  I have the pleasure of being one of twelve community members serving on the Finance Subcommittee.

The Finance Subcommittee has spent several hours thus far getting educated in overall School Finances, including sources of operational funding, sources of facilities funding, the current tax levy rates of the Cedar Rapids District and surrounding districts, and various guidelines and limitations that apply to bonding capacity and utilization.  We then narrowed our focus to the specific financing issues in which the Cedar Rapids School District is operating in.  After that review and discussion, we came to consensus on the following overview:

  • There will likely be more needs than funds available.
  • Providing environments and facilities that enhance Student achievement is a critical concern.
  • Improved facilities can provide positive impacts to overall District Operating Funds.
  • Retaining students and reversing Open Enrollment out-migration is a desired outcome.
  • Creating long term efficiency on a cost per pupil per building is a goal.
  • The use of bonding may be an option, but any pursuit of bonding would require a process that fully documents and demonstrates the need, be detailed and specific as to uses of the proceeds, and be mindful of timing with regards to the timing of other City/County Projects and taxes.
  • A sunset of the current Secure and Advance Vision for Education (SAVE) Fund would be highly detrimental to the ability of the District to fund future facility needs.

The Finance Committee’s next task was to develop our Financial Belief Statements.  My view of these statements is that they provide the foundational financial principles that the School District should adhere to as they develop the overall Facilities Plan.  As you can imagine, this phase of the discussion was spirited, intriguing, frustrating, and at times, overwhelming.  The Committee member’s level of passion for enabling the success of the students of the District, while balancing the realities of limited financial resources, was a wonderful demonstration of the power of bringing together people with engagement and interest in their community.  The end result is the following Financial Belief Statements:

Financial Belief Statements

  •  We believe financial investments in school infrastructure should promote innovation and best teaching practices while accommodating new growth and the ability to reinvest or divest in existing areas. 
  • We believe flexibility and adaptability of facilities should be a consideration of how dollars are invested in the future.
  • We believe other types of funds will be required to create better teaching/learning spaces (Bond, SAVE Extension)
  • We believe in utilizing shared public resources (recreation, parking, city, other public/private)
  • We believe we live in an era of declining resources so collaboration with public/private opportunities is imperative.
  • We believe given finite resources, economies of scale must be a priority in order to reallocate resources to teaching and learning. 

As I hope is evident, the committee has worked hard to acknowledge the need to work within a finite amount of resources, while aspiring to accomplish the needed improvements, additions, reallocation of resources, and potentially, deletion, to the current facilities.  There is a strong desire and belief to leverage the needs of the entire community and to provide facilities with multiple uses and users.

Our next steps in this process involve a reconvening of all volunteers from all subcommittees to start to come up with a plan that incorporates the belief statements from each subcommittee.  As part of that process, I believe it likely that there will be some further refinement of each subcommittee’s statements, so that the final set of belief statements will encompass the consensus wishes of all of the volunteers.  From there, the Board of Education will be holding public input sessions to allow all constituents the opportunity to learn more and provide their input to the process.  I sincerely hope that you will make the time and give the effort of participating in that process.  The future of our schools and our community will be at stake.

Gary Becker is a Senior Vice President at Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust and is a member of the CRCSD Audit Committee;