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Many Earlham residents say there was not adequate information presented to the public ahead of a March 3 vote to raise the Physical Plan and Equipment Levy (PPEL) for the school district.

In fact, it seems many residents were not told the vote was to increase the levy, only to continue it.

Michael Wright, superintendent of Earlham Community School District, tweeted a reminder to vote at 6:57 a.m. on March 3. It was retweeted by mayor Jeff Lillie and schoolboard member Julene Mutchler.

“Today is special election day for the renewal of the Physical Plant and Equipment (PPEL). Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Remember to vote today. #cardinalpride.”

No mention of the increase, just mention of renewal.

The district’s website has an article posted about the vote. In the first sentence, it states voters will be asked whether or not to continue the PPEL.

It isn’t until the final paragraphs that the district lets people know the current PPEL rate is $1.00/$1,000 assessed valuation. The proposed PPEL rate for the election was $1.34/$1,000 assessed valuation.

Minutes from a Jan. 15, 2020 board meeting show that the school board approved a resolution ordering an election question on continuing to levy a voter-approved PPEL.

The actual ballot language also did not include information that the levy was being raised, just that it would be $1.34/$1,000 of assessed valuation. The Madison County Auditor’s office told The Iowa Standard that the ballot language is submitted by the school district’s attorney. And once it is submitted to the auditor, it is a done deal.

Wright said the ballot language is also something the school board looks at as well because it has to approve a resolution to actually hold the election.

On the morning of the vote, the district sent out a robocall reminding people to vote. Many people had no idea what they were voting about.

“Actually, I was gone,” Wright said. “So I set up, I’ll just say a blast with the same program that we use say for example if school is going to be late or school is going to be canceled because of weather. It really went to the folks who, we have their email addresses, so yeah, parents.”

Wright said it was the exact same information presented in the article that appeared in the local newspaper and the school’s newsletter.

“Basically just the facts and just a reminder at the very end to remember to go vote,” he said.

The district also sent out an email to parents stating the election was for the renewal of the PPEL. It did not include anything about an increase.

Earlham residents have told The Iowa Standard that the district was sending out information on the robocall saying the vote is just to renew the existing PPEL levy when, in reality, it was to renew and increase it.

Some of those same residents shared concerns with The Iowa Standard that taxpayers without children in the district would not have been notified about the vote.

Wright said information about the increase was sent out and he doesn’t believe people should have been confused.

“That was all included in the information that we sent out,” he said. “It is a renewal because we do have a PPEL already that’s $1.00, but it was also to increase from that $1.00 to $1.34. It was all in that article.”

However, Wright also acknowledged there may have been reason for confusion because of all the numbers he used in the article.

“The only part that may have been confusing was at the very end,” he said. “I said that even with renewing this PPEL, the other part of it is the plan on the part of the district to reduce the overall property tax grade for all the district patrons. So, that was in there too. Maybe that was too many numbers.”

The district was at $16.75 two years ago with the tax rate but is planning to approve it at $15.50 in April.

“We’re talking about going down $1.25 over two years,” he said. “So, that’s why we thought it was the appropriate time to ask voters for that particular fund if they’d be willing to increase it by 34 cents. Could it have been too many numbers? Well, yeah, maybe. But honestly, after putting it out on all the media that we did, I didn’t get a single phone call. I got one email. Of course, I was gone, so I didn’t have access. But I got one email that I responded back to and directed the person towards our article that was on our website which was the same one that was in the paper which was the same one that we basically sent out to everybody through our messenger system.”

The vote passed. There will be a school board meeting on Wednesday night.

“We’re just appreciative of our public again supporting our school district and allowing us to continue to have the types of facilities that we think really help make excellent learning facilities.”