WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Special Election Tuesday for Van Buren/Harmony School Merger

Feb 2, 2018

A special election will be held Tuesday, February 6, for residents of the Harmony and Van Buren School Districts in southeast Iowa. They are being asked to decide whether the districts should reorganize into a single school district.

The new district would be called the Van Buren County Community School District. If a majority of voters in each existing district approve the reorganization, the new district would start operating in July 2019.

Harmony and Van Buren currently “whole-grade share” at the middle and high school levels, meaning students from each district already attend class together. The two districts each operate their own elementary school.

If the merger is approved, a school board would be formed consisting of four members of the Van Buren School Board, two members of the Harmony School Board and one At-Large member selected by the six board members. The districts said the ratios are based on the population of the two districts.

Harmony School Superintendent Kerry Phillips said a reorganization is in the best interest of his district. He said more and more Harmony students are open-enrolling into neighboring districts, which is taking away the resources needed to provide a high-quality education.

“It’s a lot more economical to be reorganized than to stand alone,” said Phillips. “You replicate a lot of things when you are running two separate districts. You can offer more together than we are able to offer alone. Over time, it just provides stability and we can offer the kids more.”

Phillips said the new, reorganized district would have the resources needed to provide a high-quality education, possibly even leading students who open-enrolled out to return.

“It’s been an issue here for numerous years and it’s got a little worse,” said Phillips. "I think it started really climbing in 2008 and it’s been kind of consistently growing year after year.”

Phillips said the new Van Buren County Community School District would utilize all of the existing buildings, including Harmony Elementary School, which has been a point of contention for opponents who worry that school will be closed after the merger.

He said the property tax rate will also decrease for both districts, based on figures provided by the two districts.

Harmony

  • 2016 - $18.33
  • 2017 - $18.90
  • 2018 – $19.79
  • 2019 - $11.71 (if reorganization approved)
  • 2020 - $11.65

Van Buren

  • 2016 – $12.54
  • 2017 - $13.38
  • 2018 – $12.23
  • 2019 - $12.23 (if reorganization approved)
  • 2020 - $11.65

Phillips said he does not know what the future will hold for the Harmony School District if the ballot question fails on Tuesday.

Van Buren County Auditor Jon Finney said 140 people had voted early as of February 1. There are roughly 5,000 registered voters between the two districts.