If Taylorville truly aspires to increase its vitality and improve its economy, the community must come together to invest in the town’s most precious asset: our young people. A strategy based on making high-quality schooling the focal point of community development can attract families – who in turn bring dynamism and growth. This is a complex undertaking that requires leaders in both the public and private sectors to work together for the common good.
This is why we are distressed to learn that proposed plans that seek to improve the economy of Taylorville risk undermining the Taylorville public schools’ long- term funding streams and long-planned building projects. We are concerned about two proposals:
1) A new and little-publicized proposal to expand Taylorville’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District jeopardizes core funding for local public schools for decades to come. This proposal would expand the subsidies for redevelopment to new areas, encompassing approximately 10 percent of the school district’s tax
base. The consequences could be devastating for the schools’ funding streams – a reason that the school board recently sent a letter to the mayor formally opposing the expansion. TIF districts are indeed one public-policy lever for rejuvenating blighted communities. Yet, this proposal encompasses a wide swath of town – including the Taylorville Square – which has seen robust revitalization efforts in the absence of such a policy incentive.
2) Plans to build “a 1,200-seat state-of-the-art Christian
County performance venue” near the square threaten the viability of the school district’s years-long efforts to build both a performing arts center and sports field house at the high school. The financial details and blueprints for the facility near the square have yet to be presented to the community, so the viability of the project cannot be judged. However, fund-raising has already begun, with private businesses and individuals being solicited to contribute to the concept. Meanwhile, the school district’s plans to build a performing arts center and a sports field house for local students are set for sharp cutbacks. To be sure, this is in part because of increased construction costs causing fund-raising efforts to fall short – but also in part, one cannot dismiss, due to competition from this project. As a community leader said to us this weekend, “The town can’t support both.” We risk losing both if the school district’s project is scuttled by an idea that may not prove to be viable and may never come to fruition.
We all want to see a thriving Taylorville. Nevertheless, it raises legitimate concerns to understand that the community is pursuing measures that, even inadvertently, are likely to siphon away support for students. The ramifications may be unintended, but they are real.
Against this backdrop, it is worth thinking about the remarks made recently by Marty Davis, who brought McDonald’s to Taylorville nearly 50 years ago. On Saturday, the Taylorville Public Schools Foundation honored Marty and his family for the contributions they have made time and again to support the schools. In accepting the award, Marty recalled that he was concerned that his family would lose out on opportunities when they moved from larger Des Moines to smaller Taylorville.
What reassured him? Seeing a threesome of teachers – band directors and music teachers Jim Smith and Ron Lindvahl and elementary and art teacher Ann Lindvahl – working in the early hours every morning over coffee at his restaurant. When Marty saw their dedication to Taylorville students, he said, he knew that things would be just fine. There are many factors that must come together in the calculus to make a community thrive. Business leaders like Marty Davis – who use their businesses to support public schools – are undoubtedly one of them.
Is it the best course of action for a community to pursue growth strategies that risk siphoning resources away from its young people? Are there other ways forward?
We urge the community to ask hard questions about these proposals and their likely ramifications. We urge everyone – city officials, school officials, those aspiring to hold public office, private-sector leaders, and community residents in all walks of life – to come together and to work together to help our community and our young people become the best they can be.
An investment in Taylorville’s next generation is a sure bet.
Karen Brandon, Lenee Soto and Derek Fraley
The Children of Katie Fraley – long-time Taylorville school teacher, former Taylorville School Board member, and the posthumous recipient of the inaugural Friend of Education award from the Taylorville Public Schools Foundation