Vote YES for North Tama’s future

Telegraph urges North Tama voters to support Nov. 7 bond referendum

This Tuesday, Nov. 7, voters in the North Tama County Community School District will be asked for the second time this year to approve a bond referendum to help ensure the district remains viable for decades to come. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

What happens when the town you live in no longer has a school? If voters in the North Tama County Community School District do not approve – by a super majority of 60% – the school bond referendum on the 2023 city and school election ballot this coming Tuesday, Nov. 7, in due time we may all find out.

This is why the North Tama Telegraph urges voters who reside in the North Tama school district to vote YES for the bond issue on Nov. 7.

The Telegraph did not come to this conclusion lightly. Journalists should strive at all times to remain apart from the story – but in the case of the upcoming bond referendum, this story encompasses all of us who reside in, work for, and/or benefit from the community that is North Tama; and by extension, the communities of Traer, Clutier, and Buckingham.

For more than two years, the North Tama Telegraph has covered the school board as its members diligently worked to determine how best to address the deteriorating conditions of its PK-12 campus facilities including the heavily used, 106-year-old, three-story building that operates as the district hub – housing not just the high school classrooms but also the district library, lunch room, and only elevator (which, inconveniently, opens inside a third floor high school classroom).

The current seven members of the school board are a diverse group of men and women, representing different ages and different professions from agriculture to trucking to local government.

Post-It notes stick to a wall at the North Tama school in Traer during a community input session held last year focusing on facilities improvement. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

There have been countless times through the years where the current crop of members did not agree – including last December when the board struggled with the decision to either remain at Class A football or drop down to 8-Player – but all seven have unequivocally supported the bond referendum because they can see better than any of us, the writing is on the whiteboard.

While it may not happen tomorrow or next year or even five years from now, the closure of the North Tama school will loom heavy and clear on the horizon if the bond is not approved by a super majority on Nov. 7.

North Tama Superintendent David Hill, in a recent sit-down with the paper, reiterated comments he has been making the past two years: the district — financially sound with level enrollment gradually on the increase — remains a “bright spot” for the greater community.

But he also stressed the district “cannot continue to operate out of our aging facilities.”

When asked what would need to happen to halt attendance at the school entirely, Hill said either a failure of the district’s annual inspection by the State Fire Marshal, or a failure of the district to spend the required $50,000-$75,000 annually on ‘band aid fixes’ to the aging HVAC system would have to take place.

The North Tama Community School District’s 1917 core building pictured last March. The 106-year-old structure currently houses mostly high school classrooms plus the district library, lunch room, and elevator. The building would be replaced if the bond referendum planned for Nov. 7 is approved by a super majority of voters. A similar referendum failed by just six votes in March. PHOTO BY SOREN M. PETERSON

Either scenario would make it impossible for students to attend North Tama.

But at present, there is nowhere else for North Tama students to go other than another school district as North Tama is a singular, PK-12 campus.

As the largest employer in Traer – and one of the largest in Tama County – losing the school and dispersing the student body among neighboring districts would cause a ripple effect felt countywide.

“Everyone sees their connection to the public school in a different way,” Superintendent Hill told the Telegraph, “but I hope everyone understands the value that North Tama has for this community.”

Without a local school, fewer young families tend to live in a small, rural community like Traer.

And once the young families disappear, a lot of amenities that citizens depend on disappear as well from the local clinic to the local grocery store to the local elevator to the local restaurant to the local newspaper to even to the local ambulance service.

It has happened in countless Iowa communities before, and it can happen again.

No one wants to lose their school – an entity that often defines much of the identity of a small town.

If given the chance to go back and somehow change the course of history, many Iowa communities now without a school building would fight with everything they could muster to keep their school.

Even, yes, if it meant raising taxes.

No one wants to pay more money. The Telegraph understands that fact.

But when a school district dissolves or merges with a neighboring district, school levies don’t just suddenly end for those in the closed district. Those taxes are instead sent elsewhere.

Right now property owners in the North Tama district enjoy the lowest school tax rate of the 49 districts in the 8-county region (Tama County and all contiguous counties).

North Tama’s current school tax rate is $5.07 (per thousand) LESS than South Tama County’s rate, and $6.46 (per thousand) LESS than Hudson’s rate – two of the districts that North Tama properties could become part of if North Tama were to dissolve or merge.

According to Superintendent Hill, if such a scenario were to happen, those residents would not only lose their local school, but also undergo a HIGHER tax increase than they would if the current bond was approved.

Wind up in Traer

Traer – a town with a local school – is a wonderful place to live with a thriving Main Street that includes:

-A hardware store.

-A healthcare clinic.

-A well-stocked grocery store.

-An ambulance service (in a county without a hospital).

-A fantastic veterinary clinic.

-A magnificent library.

-A nursing home.

-A child care center.

-A funeral home.

-A movie theater.

-A grain elevator.

-A swimming pool.

-Several insurance options.

-One of the only floral shops in the county.

-Several options for getting a haircut.

-A golf course that just celebrated its 100th year in operation.

-More than one restaurant/bar.

-More than one gas station/convenience store.

-More than one auto repair shop.

-More than one law practice.

-More than one banking option.

-One of the best historical museums in the Midwest.

And the list goes on.

Communities without a school building more often than not do not boast even a fraction of what Traer’s thriving downtown is able to offer because – to be blunt – the heart of a small town is its local school.

“I think our community is part of what makes North Tama a great school,” Superintendent Hill told the Telegraph last week, “but I think our school is what makes this a great community.”

He went on to characterize North Tama as “the pride of the community” due to its “optimal size” that allows cross-grade interactions by serving all grades in one location.

Some have argued that the district should have addressed its failing infrastructure long ago.

Such arguments – while great in theory – don’t stop school closures.

Your vote YES on Nov. 7 can help North Tama and the greater Traer community remain viable for decades to come.

The previous bond referendum that took place this past March was not voted down by the electorate. In fact, a majority of voters said YES. But a bond referendum such as this one requires a supermajority of 60% to pass.

Six votes is all the March vote was missing. Six votes.

The Telegraph urges eligible voters who did not vote in March to turn out on Nov. 7 and vote YES.

And those who did turn out? Do so again and vote YES.

Vote YES for your community, for your children and grandchildren, and ensure Traer continues to be a great place to live well into the future.

The heart of Iowa

More than a decade ago, the Telegraph’s reporter — while living and working in a different community — sat inside a school auditorium and listened as a group of local school board members debated shuttering one of its schools. Doing so would have meant a small town just like Traer no longer had its heart – the local school.

The vote to close the school failed that evening by just one vote from a school board member who didn’t even reside in the community that would have lost its elementary school.

When asked years later to comment on why she didn’t vote to close the school, the only comment she would make was that such a vote would have more than likely meant the end of that community as a viable option for families to live – eventually.

And if Iowa needs anything, it’s more viable rural communities. Because while the local school is the heart of a small town, small towns are the heart of Iowa.

Vote YES on Nov. 7.

To learn more about North Tama’s facility needs, the proposed solution, the tax impact, and more, visit the website https://www.northtamaplanning.org