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Sales tax receipts allowing school upgrades

Legat Architects has created this rendering of the potential renovated front of Rock Island High School, using funds generated by the Rock Island County 1 percent sales tax for school facilities.

More than $11 million has now flowed to Rock Island County schools for facility improvements in 1 percent sales tax funding.

School administrators said the money is creating schools with better learning environments for students.

Rock Island County voters approved the tax Nov. 8, 2016, after three failed attempts and adoption of similar sales tax in Scott, Henry and Mercer counties.

Collections of the tax began in July 2017. As of September, the Regional Office of Education had distributed $11.6 million to 14 school districts.

Disbursements are paid monthly, three months after Rock Island County shoppers pay sales tax on items. Districts got their first disbursement for facility projects in October 2017.

In addition to the 10 school districts in Rock Island County, schools in Colona, Erie, Orion and Mercer County also received a portion of the 1 percent sales tax because some of their students reside in Rock Island County.

Funding is based on student population, with Moline-Coal Valley receiving nearly $3.9 million. About a third of all Rock Island County students reside in the district.

The Rock Island-Milan district, with about 30 percent of the county’s students, has received $3.4 million.

The districts are wasting no time putting the new tax revenue to work. Many are completing long overdue repairs or new projects, such as heating and air conditioning, parking lots, building safety and LED lighting.

Some districts, such as Silvis, are using a pay-as-you-go approach. Silvis, Superintendent Terri VandeWiele said the district has used the revenue to replace a water heater and 50-year-old doors at George O. Barr Elementary.

The Moline-Coal Valley and United Township High School districts have used bonding to get major projects off the ground.

Dave McDermott, Moline-Coal Valley chief financial officer, said districts legally can bond up to 80 percent of expected revenues. His district has bonded out for about $22 million in projects, with the bonds expected to be repaid in about nine years.

The project list includes $15 million for HVAC and electrical at the high school, $3 million for the Bartlett Performing Arts Center, $2.5 million for heating and air as well as 21st Century learning projects at Franklin Elementary and $900,000 for LED lighting upgrades district-wide.

McDermott said the projects are expected to be completed by the end of summer 2020. The following year, he said, the district may look to start a new slate of projects.

United Township has borrowed $7 million for the $9.6 million student life renovation and addition project. Superintendent Jay Morrow said the work includes constructing a secure entrance, updating the library/media center, renovating the existing office complex and a student commons area.

Future potential UTHS projects include roof replacements and HVAC and lighting upgrades.

The new tax revenue, according to administrators, is creating real change for students and the community.

“This helps us be more competitive in the educational environment with surrounding school districts,” McDermott said. “In reality, more so, it provides a better learning environment and opportunities for the Moline-Coal Valley district.”

Rock Island-Milan chief financial officer Bob Beckwith said his district has spent $1.6 million for a secure entry at Thomas Jefferson and roofing and tuckpoint work elsewhere in the district. This summer, the district plans $2.2 million for secure entries at Edison, Washington, Earl Hanson and Horace Mann.

“It’s nice to have the flexibility to do some of the work that we’ve had to put off for a while due to funding streams,” Beckwith said. “It’s wonderful that you’ve got opportunities to provide a safe and secure learning environment for your students.”

Rockridge Superintendent Perry Miller said his district has completed a new ceiling and LED lighting in the junior high wing. It’s also updated bathrooms at the high school and is making future plans.

“It’s nice to be able to dream and plan facilities that are conducive for student learning,” he said. “We’re still working on that, on a total five-year plan for the district.”

Riverdale Superintendent Ron Jacobs said his district has been able to climate control the high school and put a permanent surface on the parking lot between the elementary and high school buildings. Future sales tax receipts are planned to go toward secure entries renovating chemistry and biology labs a the high school.

Ticking the these long-desired projects off the list, Jacobs said, has been amazing. It gives kids better learning opportunities they would not have had with outdated facilities, he said.

“It’s really a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It allows us to keep up with many improvements that have been happening for years across the river. We compete for kids, there’s no secret about that.”

Jacobs said taxpayers should know that “none of this money is going to be spent foolishly.

“We appreciate every dollar we get, and it will help our kids and teachers in the classroom,” he said.

Here’s how other districts are using their sales tax receipts:

Carbon Cliff-Barstow:

  • Concrete repairs and buying new cafeteria tables, a new dishwasher and a new milk cooler. In progress are drainage system repairs.

East Moline: All five school buildings were updated with new windows, LED lighting and air conditioning.

Hampton: Air conditioning work, with roof repairs planned in the future.

Sherrard: Paid off wind turbine bonds, bought a new phone system and installed new gym floor. In progress is a weight room and wrestling room addition at north end of high school.

Colona: Building maintenance and repayment of capital improvement bonds to reduce property tax burden.

Mercer County: Repaid existing health life safety bonds.

Erie: Building a locker room/restroom facility at football/field track.

Orion officials did not respond to requests for comment.

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