In March 2014, voters in Rock Island County can help bring more money to their schools.
The group - YES Makes Cents For Students - wants you to vote "YES" for a 1% County Sales Tax in the General Primary Election on March 18th, 2014. The sales tax would be used specifically for facility improvements in Rock Island County's 10 school districts.
"For the first time, the burden of funding school facilities would not just be on the burden of property owners within Rock Island County," says Sarah Bohnsack, Co-Chair of the YES Makes Cents For Students Committee as well as a CPA and Mother of 6. "Sales tax is a very equitable tax. It's a users tax, so anybody who shops in Rock Island County would share in helping us build our facilities."
One example of how the sales tax would work is the latest project at Bettendorf High School. A multi-million dollar renovation was paid for - in part - with Scott County's one-cent sales tax. The biggest parts of the project included a 840-seat performing arts center, a bookstore-style library, and a new main entrance that balances presence with security.
"We want to hold up a high standard and that begins from the very first moment you walk into the building," says Principal, Jimmy Casas. "Is it safe? What does it look like and, more importantly, what we share with our families and our students all the time as well as our guests, what does it feel like? When you walk into that school, does it just feel like a very welcoming environment and an environment that people want to be in?"
That is also one of the goals of the YES Makes Cents For Students Committee. Especially security, Bohnsack says.
"My husband is a teacher. My oldest daughter is a teacher. I send four other children to school every day in Rock Island County so that's probably the closest thing with me is let's get these schools secure."
Bohnsack says the sales tax would generate an estimated $11.5 million every year, plus even more for the area's economy.
"For every $1 spent on construction, it's estimated to be $8 into the community for construction," Bohnsack says. "So, that's $88 million of economic activity within in the Quad Cities."
The sales tax would not be able to be used for staffing purposes, but both Bohnsack and Principal Casas says the exterior of a school is also important.
"I realize that people don't necessarily pick where they live by the storefront, but I think it's a factor," Bohnsack says.
"We feel that facilities - and there's a lot of research to tell you about that - that the kids will learn better in an environment that they have a lot of pride about," says Principal Casas.
Bohnsack says there's another perk to voting "YES" on March 18th.
"All of the schools have pledged to reduce the five-cent life safety levee, so there will be a property tax reduction with this if it passes," she says.
Bohnsack says the language of the referendum will be very clear. She says it will probably be the last item on the ballot.
Rock Island County had the item on the 2009 General Election Ballot, but only 43% voted "YES" so it didn't pass. However, Bohnsack says if it had passed, the total for school facility improvements up to this year would be more than $57 million.
YES Makes Cents For Students plans to hold more information events in the weeks leading up to March 18th. To learn more, there Facebook Page is listed here. To follow the group on Twitter, click here.