Monday, March 2

A Take on the ICCSD Issues from Rod Sullivan

From Johnson County Board of Supervisor (and citizen) Rod Sullivan's Salvos reprinted with his permission:

Since I seldom let any big issues pass by without comment, it is time to discuss the ICCSD building plans. Unfortunately, I could not attend either forum on the subject. This is a very complex set of issues, so I'll try to break it up into digestible pieces.

First, whether one agrees with her or not, I applaud Mayor Bailey for expressing her concerns over the closing of Roosevelt. I find it amazing that the Press Citizen suggests that she mind her own business. It IS her business! She is a citizen! What's more, the Press Citizen is always critical of local governmental units for failures to communicate. That is exactly what happened here ­ but it is not the fault of the city!

Additionally, Iowa City has a comprehensive plan for the whole city, and it is quite good. It includes the preservation of older neighborhoods ­preservation that will be ineffective without neighborhood schools. And thePC says the City Council "should not interfere"? The PC should have instead demanded that the ICCSD go over this in a joint public meeting with the City Council.

Secondly, we should recognize closing Roosevelt is a tough call. Students and staff deserve good facilities. The building has clearly deteriorated to a critical point. There is room to build on at Horn. My problem is the school at "The Crossings". There aren't any kids there yet ­there are kids at Roosevelt. Perhaps repairing Roosevelt would be more expensive but there are very real costs to suburban sprawl. These should be discussed at length in public forums. Similarly, let's ensure that other older buildings get the maintenance they need so we do not find ourselves in this position again.

Thirdly, we need to discuss similar issues at Longfellow and Mann. I served on the Yes For Kids Steering Committee, and we sold the bond issue in part on improving accessibility at these older schools. I understand that this can be expensive. I understand that it might be cheaper tear down the older schools and to rebuild on the parking lots and/or playgrounds. But wenever said anything about closing them. Fixing, yes. Closing? It was never mentioned. Whatever the case, these neighborhoods MUST have schools, and they MUST be accessible. Anyone who understands Iowa City and the electorate knows this is non-negotiable. We already voted to do it. I personally told people the ICCSD would be fixing this! I was an honest volunteer- please do not make me a liar! As Larry the Cable Guy would say, just Git 'er done!

It has been mentioned that many kids already do not enjoy "neighborhood schools". Kids are bussed to several elementaries throughout the District. While this is true, it ignores the fact that most kids in theICCSD DO have neighborhood schools. When you factor out rural kids, who are going to be driven/bussed in any scenario, most kids live within walking distance of their elementaries. This is the way the public wants it, and experts in all sorts of disciplines agree it is generally best for the community psychologically, sociologically, and environmentally.

My final point is that we tend to assume too much. We assume that the public always wants the cheapest option, but local voters have proven that is not always the case. Voters approved the SILO tax, Conservation Bond, Library bonds in three communities, pool bonds in two communities, and much more. Voters have spoken out in favor of jail alternatives, even though they cost more. Voters have spoken out in favor of arts and culture expenditures, even though they cost more. So instead of assuming people want the cheapest option possible, we could just let people vote on it.

This is evidenced by discussions around school size. The ICCSD tells us we need elementary schools to be built for 450-550 kids in order to be as cost efficient as possible. Yet we are never told what size elementaries should be in order to maximize student performance. Almost every study of student performance shows the optimal elementary size to be 250-400. Why not ask the public if they prefer the cheapest, the best, or some hybrid?

The same discussion needs to take place at the high school level. Explain to the public that a North Liberty-north Coralville high school would only have 600-1000 students. That means fewer opportunities (not NO opportunities, but fewer opportunities) for advanced classes and extracurricular activities. It would not be the most cost effective response to overcrowding at West. But again, almost every study of student performance shows the optimal high school size to be 600-1000. Why not ask the public if they prefer the cheapest, the best, or some hybrid?

I do not envy School Board members. I know most of the ICCSD Board pretty
well. I know most of the ICCSD Administration pretty well. These are good people
we are talking about, who really care about our kids. These folks work very
hard, some as volunteers, and rarely receive the thanks they deserve. School
financing is tricky, and most of us do not fully understand it. There is no
issue more dear to the electorate than the schools. And theICCSD is faced with a
number of difficult decisions.

Lots of people have a dog in this fight. We all want to claim the moral high ground of doing what is "best for the kids." But what is best for one is not necessarily best for the next. And what is best for a single school is not necessarily best for the entire District. This is why we elect a Board­ their job is to make these decisions. I just hope the decisions are made following lots of public input.

People in the ICCSD need more details on school funding. There are staffing issues; fine. Lay out the problems so the public can opineintelligently. The more information we share, the better our decisions.

I simply hope that the ICCSD Board and Administration seeks input and then gives that input serious consideration. Do not assume that the voters in the ICCSD want the cheapest. They just might want the best.

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