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Sunday, March 26, 2017

School board agenda for March 28

Some of the items on the board’s agenda this week:

We’ll vote on resolutions supporting students and families impacted by immigration enforcement and creating a task force to plan additional supports.

We’ll hear a legislative update.

We’ll get an update from the committee that is considering transportation issues (such as the provision of activities buses at the secondary schools).

We’ll consider the superintendent’s recommended fiscal year 2018 budget and 2018 physical plan and equipment levy (PPEL) life cycle budget.

We’ll get an update from the committee addressing the issue of the district’s use of seclusion enclosures (see these two posts).

We’ll examine the draft ballot language for the district’s $191 million bond proposal.

There are several other items of potential interest as well. The full agendas are here and here. Please chime in with a comment about anything that catches your attention.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Plan B

Some people have asked what the district’s “Plan B” is if its facilities bond proposal fails. When that topic came up in one of the board’s work sessions, our board chair made it clear that he was against any attempt to specify a Plan B, and the board followed suit.

It’s understandable that voters would like to know Plan B, but I agree that the board should not try to state one. We can each advocate for what we think the back-up plan should be, but it would be misleading for the board to say what it will be, for three reasons.

First, this board simply doesn’t have the right to decide Plan B. That decision can only be made by the next board, which will include three members to be elected this September (at the same time the bond vote occurs). If the bond does fail, why would anyone think that the same board that created the failed proposal should get to tell the next board what the back-up proposal must be?

Second, if the proposal fails, any revisions to it will have to depend on an assessment of why it failed. The board can’t possibly assess that until after the bond vote occurs.

Third, a board that wants to pass a bond has an incentive to make Plan B sound as awful as possible—otherwise, voters might decide they like Plan B better than Plan A! Be prepared to hear lots of arguments about the disastrous consequences that will follow a “No” vote, and be equally prepared to scrutinize all of them with a critical eye. What we know is that a bond defeat means a one-year delay in the facilities plan as the next board revises the proposal for another try at passage. That one-year delay and the resulting uncertainty do have real costs and disadvantages, but so does passage of the proposal, which in my view significantly overcommits the district. How to weigh those costs and benefits is ultimately what the voters have to decide.

What if the bond proposal fails?

In January, the school board voted to move forward with putting a roughly $188 million bond proposal on the September ballot. The proposal would authorize bonding to fund six years of projects in the district’s facilities plan. Under state law, it will need 60% voter approval to pass.

What happens if the bond proposal fails? Our board chair has said that if the proposal fails, the facilities plan will come to a virtual “full stop,” with projects going forward only on a much, much slower basis. This is something of an exaggeration. It’s true that if the proposal fails, the district could not go forward as planned with the projects that are scheduled to occur after 2017-18. But the board would almost certainly come back to the voters at the first opportunity with a revised proposal. By law, the district would have to wait at least six months to put another bond proposal before the voters. Since the facilities projects are scheduled around academic years, even a six-month delay probably means a one-year delay for the remaining projects in the plan.

If the bond fails, it’s possible that the district could rely on SAVE tax revenues to fund projects in the plan. But that can happen only if the legislature extends the SAVE tax, and even then the district may have to get voter approval to use the SAVE revenues. (More on this in an upcoming post.) Moreover, if the voters reject the bond proposal, the next board may feel compelled to revise the long-term plan in light of that feedback.

In sum, if the bond fails, you can expect a one-year delay in the facilities plan as the board comes back to the public with a revised plan designed to win passage.

This is a community that values education and has often supported school bond proposals and levies in the past. My guess is that if the bond fails, it won’t be because of outright “No” votes, but because of people (like me) who want to see a better plan. When the board finally presents a compelling proposal, I don’t doubt that it will pass. I just wish the board had tried harder to come up with a sound and supportable initial proposal.

Update: North Corridor elementary boundary decision postponed

In January, when the school board voted to approve the bond proposal, it also decided that the new North Corridor elementary school would be built on a different site than originally planned. The new site is about two and a half miles northwest of the original site. (See this post.)

Because of the site change, the board will have to adjust the elementary boundaries that it adopted last May. At this week’s work session, we discussed whether the board should redraw those boundaries now or wait until after this September’s board election and bond vote. The board decided to postpone that decision until after the election.

Two neighborhoods are particularly likely to be affected. Under the current boundary plan, the neighborhoods nearest the new site are zoned to go to Penn, but some of them will almost certainly be rezoned to attend the new school. (One of the advantages of the site change is that the new site has many more kids within walking distance than the old one does.)

The other area that seems most likely to be affected is the “North Lincoln” neighborhood. That area, which currently goes to Lincoln, was supposed to attend the new elementary school. But most North Lincoln residents are four or five miles from the new site. If the neighborhoods around the new site are added to the new school’s attendance area, some neighborhoods will have to be subtracted, and the North Lincoln neighborhoods are the farthest away.

Other areas could also be affected. For example, because the new school’s site was relocated, the board shrunk the addition that was planned for Garner (which is relatively close to the new site). That may mean that Garner’s new boundaries will have to be adjusted. Until the board gets right down to working out the details, it’s hard to know exactly who will be affected.

The district still owns the land that it had originally designated to be the site of the new elementary (just south of the new high school). There is a lot of development under way in that area, so there is a lot of potential for enrollment growth there. In a document summarizing “future needs,” the administration included a second new North Corridor elementary school, which would go on that site. But the board chose not to include that elementary school in its bond proposal, which covers the facilities plan through 2023-24. So, under the plan being presented to the voters, a school on that location would not be considered until some time after 2023-24.

I supported this week’s decision to wait until after the 2017 election to redraw the North Corridor elementary boundaries. During the elementary boundary discussion last year, I argued that it made sense to wait until after the election and the bond vote to draw new boundaries, rather than draw them three and half years in advance without updated enrollment projections. I still feel the same way. If the bond passes, there will still be two years before the new elementary opens, so the board can settle boundaries well in advance of opening the school. If the bond fails, the board will have to come back to the public with a different bond proposal, which could mean changing boundaries yet again. It just makes sense to wait until we know more before settling boundaries.

At the time, we heard a lot of arguments about how irresponsible it would be to put the 2019 elementary boundary decision off until after the 2017 election—it was even compared to not confirming Judge Garland!—but the rest of the board now seems to have come around to the idea. I still think we did the public a disservice by announcing boundaries that we knew would probably have to change before they took effect. It was particularly wrong to announce to North Lincoln families that they would attend the new elementary school when two hour earlier, on the very same night, in closed session, the board had decided to pursue the option of relocating the school site. In a democracy, all decisions are subject to change, but there was no reason to raise expectations that far in advance with so many possible changes on the horizon.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

School board agenda for February 28

Some of the topics on the board’s agenda for this week:

We’ll review a draft of the certified budget for fiscal year 2017-18. More information here.

At the work session, we’ll discuss a possible resolution to express support for students from undocumented and immigrant families, and we’ll review how the district currently handles immigration-related issues.

We’ll also continue to discuss the district’s bond proposal, and we’ll review the recent history of the district’s attempts to determine the capacity of its school buildings. (There is quite a set of charts here (link fixed).)

We’ll also discuss the possibility of changing the elementary attendance zones in the North Corridor area, which will be necessary if the board chooses to build the new North Corridor elementary school in a different location that originally planned. (See this post.)

All that and more! Feel free to chime in with a comment about anything that catches your attention. The full agendas are here and here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Board agenda for February 14

My very quick summary of topics on tonight’s board agenda: A legislative update; a report on post-secondary readiness (see also this post); a quarterly financial report; and an update from the Integrated Pest Management task force. At the work session, we’ll talk more about the bond proposal; we’ll hear about the district’s planned 1:1 computer policy; we’ll discuss the district’s policies about student use of cell phones. We'll also consider a resolution supporting the existing collective bargaining laws. And more! Full agendas here, here, and here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Update on the bond proposal

The board tonight voted 5-2 to ask the voters for roughly $188 million in borrowing to fund its facilities plan through 2023. It also approved some changes to the plan. The list of projects is in the bottom (greenish) portion of the fourth column of this chart. I voted against the proposal, for the reasons I discussed here. Board member Phil Hemingway also voted against the proposal.

I’ll be posting more about the bond issue as time goes on. The one striking feature of tonight’s discussion was that the board’s proposal was based on a substantially revised set of building capacity numbers. From the time the district adopted the facilities plan in 2013 until this evening, the plan had been based on capacity numbers calculated by a consultant, BLDD, which were supposed to have been the result of careful measurements of all aspects of the buildings, rather than simply multiplying the number of rooms by a number of kids (as the district had done in the past). Tonight, we were presented with a new, very different set of building capacity numbers, also supposed to have been calculated on the basis of careful measurements and on the buildings’ intended use.

I agree that the BLDD numbers were flawed. But this new set of numbers—the final version of which we received less than twenty-four hours before tonight’s meeting—has not been vetted sufficiently to make it the basis of a $188 million dollar proposal. For one thing, we received unclear answers about whether the new numbers reflect our anticipated ability to staff the classrooms, whether they reflect the weighted resource allocation model, and whether they reflect a building’s current use. And the numbers themselves raise questions:

  • Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Alexander Elementary had a capacity of 500. In fact, as soon as the enrollment rose into the 400s, the school added two temporaries and converted three non-classroom spaces into classrooms. So the new numbers will recognize that the old numbers seriously overstated Alexander’s capacity, right? But actually they say that the addition of four classrooms will result in a 575-student capacity.

  • Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district had been telling people for years that Garner Elementary had a capacity of 445 and needed a 175-seat addition to bring its capacity up to 620. The new plan deletes the seven-classroom addition and simply adds a music room and an art room—yet Garner’s “new” capacity will be 633.

  • Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that South East Junior High could hold 764 students, and that it needed an addition so it could hold 854. Under the new plan, South East still gets two new classrooms, but its “new” capacity will be 750—lower than we told people it was before any addition. Now the district can justify the addition that was already in the plan before this justification was created.

  • Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Wickham Elementary’s capacity was 428. Under the new plan, Wickham gets a new art room and a new music room—and its “new” capacity will be 575.

  • Under the plan as it existed until tonight, the district told the public that Kirkwood Elementary’s capacity was 306, and that it needed six new classrooms so it could hold 456 students. Under the new plan, Kirkwood receives only two new classrooms, plus an art room and a music room. Yet its “new” capacity is 468—even higher than we said it would be with six new classrooms.

  • Under the new capacity calculations, planned elementary capacity in the North Corridor exceeds projected enrollment by almost 400 seats—a bad sign for convincing voters that we need to spend $19 million to build a new elementary school there. I think the new elementary school is necessary—but if we ignore our capacity numbers and enrollment projections whenever we think we know better, why should voters trust them at all?

  • District-wide, under the new capacity calculations, the planned elementary capacity exceeds projected enrollment by over 1600 students. But don’t worry, the administration would never propose more school closings.

Maybe the district finally has the capacity numbers right this time. But I came out of tonight’s discussion even more convinced that it’s a mistake to rely on our capacity numbers and enrollment projections to commit to additions (as opposed to renovations) too far in advance of seeing whether we actually need them.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Some thoughts toward a bond proposal

This month, the school board has been discussing what sort of bond proposal to make to allow continued funding of projects in the district’s facilities plan. Without some new source of revenue, the district will not be able to move forward as planned with projects scheduled to occur after the 2017-18 year. A bond proposal would need 60% voter approval to pass; the proposal would likely appear on this coming September’s school board election ballot.

Some of the questions we’ve been discussing are: How many years of projects should the bond proposal fund? Should some of the planned projects be changed? Should the order of projects be changed? Should there be changes to overall facilities plan, even if the whole plan is not funded by this proposal?

The board majority seems to be headed toward a very large proposal, one that would fund six years of projects. The exact details are not yet settled, but it looks like that proposal would be somewhere in the $190 million range.

Broadly, there are two issues the board needs to worry about. The first is whether the bond proposal and facilities plan make sense. The second is whether the bond proposal has a realistic chance of passing. These two concerns are related but separate. A plan that is hard to defend is going to be hard to pass, but even a good plan may be hard to pass if the price tag is too high. Here are the specific concerns I have about a $190 million proposal:

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Sheer size. I think it will be very hard to achieve 60% voter support for a bond proposal as large as $190 million. According to our administration, that proposal would be more than twice the size of the largest school bond ever passed in the state of Iowa, and apparently it would be more than three times the largest school bond ever passed in our district. Granted, we have more taxpayers now than in the past, and there are many ways to measure the magnitude of a bond proposal—but no matter how you slice it, $190 million is an enormous number.

You don’t have to look too far to find other districts in Iowa that have recently struggled to pass school bonds. A few months ago, for example, voters in Mount Vernon rejected a bond proposal that would have had an impact on their taxes comparable to the one a $190 million bond would have in our district. Only 37% voted in favor. (See also, for example, the news here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Our own district’s history of bond measures is a mixed bag of successes and failures. (See my comment on this post.) When the district asked the voters in 2013 to support its Revenue Purpose Statement, which gave the district access to approximately $100 million in sales tax revenues, the “yes” vote was only 56%—enough to pass that proposal, but not enough to pass a bond.

Our district has not exactly maximized its opportunities to earn the trust and confidence of the voters. In 2013, many voters felt betrayed when the district waited until just after getting voter approval of $100 million in spending authority before raising the possibility of multiple school closures (and ultimately approving one closure). There was dissatisfaction with the district’s special education practices for years before the state issued its report last year citing the district for non-compliance with special ed laws; the district has yet to squarely acknowledge that its non-compliance may have affected whether kids received services they were entitled to. The district’s reputation for a retaliatory culture also predates that report—I even raised it in my campaign for the board—and more evidence of it emerged in our recent special ed staff climate survey. The board’s recent decision to give the superintendent a sizable raise—the biggest in the district, and not just one raise but another for next year—will rightly be seen as brushing off the legitimate concerns people have about the district’s practices and climate.

I share a lot of those concerns and yes, they do make me at least pause before entrusting the district with a large amount of spending authority. Many voters will do more than just pause and will vote “no” on a bond to express their displeasure with other aspects of the district’s performance.

The arguments for a $190 million proposal often strike me as variations on the sunk cost fallacy. So much time and effort has gone into the facilities plan, the argument goes, that we shouldn’t turn back now by asking for anything less than the full funding. But if that proposal is unlikely to pass, the sooner we realize that and act on it, the better.

For all of those reasons, I lean toward a significantly smaller bond proposal, one that encompasses projects that are necessary and make sense to complete in the short term. On that list, I would include:

  • A new elementary school to be built at the newly acquired location in North Liberty. According to our projections, the enrollment in North Corridor elementary schools will be almost 500 students over capacity in 2019 if that school is not built.

  • The renovation of Horace Mann Elementary. Renovating Mann is an important part of keeping Iowa City’s central core schools open, and the updates are long, long overdue.

  • A renovation and expansion of North Central Junior High. Under the secondary boundaries that will take effect next year, North Central’s territory becomes significantly larger. This change will quickly push it over capacity. As a result, it needs an addition sooner rather than later.

  • One of the larger east side renovation projects—either Southeast Junior High or phase II of the City High renovation, but without the additions to capacity. (See below.) These renovations are overdue and affect a large number of students and staff.

I would happily go to the public and defend those projects. There are certainly other worthy projects in the plan, too, but those few already put the proposal into the $50-60 million range. It will be hard enough to pass a bond that big; making it bigger will only put those projects at even more risk of delay.

Would a relatively scaled-back proposal mean changing the facilities plan? It would, since it would mean re-ordering some projects and proceeding at a somewhat slower pace. But I just don’t see any pathway from a completely unchanged plan to 60% voter approval. I’m (reluctantly) open to adding a few more projects (West High?), but if the proposal grows so large that it sinks under its own weight at the polls, we’ve gained nothing.

Keep in mind that a smaller bond proposal does not mean that we’re cutting the remaining projects from the plan. It just means that the remaining projects would then have to be funded through other means, such as additional bond proposals in later years.

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Hoover closure. I’ve been pointing out for years why it makes no sense to close Hoover Elementary School. It is a school big enough to house fourteen gen-ed classrooms (which means about 350 kids or more) in addition to two preschool rooms, two special ed rooms, an art room, and a music room, with a room to spare. In terms of square footage and number of classrooms, it is bigger than Hills, Lincoln, Mann, Longfellow, Shimek, and Lemme. It has more kids within a square mile than all but two other district elementaries—in many cases, way more. It can easily be filled without running a single gen-ed bus. It is a mainstay of a central Iowa City neighborhood, and plays an important role in maintaining a livable, family-friendly central core to the Iowa City metropolitan area. And just two years ago, the district invested almost a million dollars in updating it, including the installation of air conditioning.

I do not understand how we can ask the public for tens of millions of dollars while we’re simultaneously throwing away a $10-12 million asset. In fact, the facilities plan currently contains an $8 million dollar project that includes adding five classrooms to Lemme Elementary that would be unnecessary but for the closure of Hoover, and that project makes up for only a fraction of the capacity that is lost by closing Hoover. If you throw away over three hundred seats of elementary capacity in a growing district, you will eventually need to replace those seats; you’re creating a capacity need that will compete with real needs in other parts of the district.

As for its effect on the likelihood of bond passage: Tying a school closure to a bond proposal is like tying a rock to a kite. This is especially true when the district has for years been unable to answer basic questions about the justification for the closure and the planned use of the property. It is even more true when the closure came despite supermajority opposition to school closures at the district’s community workshops on the facilities plan. It is even more true when it asks Iowa City voters, many of whom are concerned about the issue of urban sprawl, not only to fund new schools on the outer edges of the district, but to do so while closing a school in the city center. If we’re serious about passing a bond proposal, why persist in needlessly alienating a big chunk of voters?

I would support a bond proposal like the one I describe above—one focused on a limited number of significant short-term needs—even if the Hoover decision remains unchanged. I would at least consider a somewhat larger list of projects. But the combination of a high price tag, a school closure, and the inclusion of unnecessary projects (see below) is beyond what I can support, and well beyond what I think can pass.

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Unnecessary or questionable projects. Some of the projects currently in the facilities plan are simply too hard to defend. In particular, I think it’s unwise to commit the district to additions—as opposed to renovations and upgrades, such as air conditioning—years before we know whether we will have enough enrollment to justify them, and when our own projections do not show a need for them. For example, the current facilities plan includes a four-classroom addition to Borlaug Elementary six years from now—even though Borlaug’s enrollment is under its current capacity and our projections show its enrollment declining by over a hundred students over the next ten years. Yes, I take our projections with a big grain of salt, especially as to ten years out, but I would not include additions in the facilities plan until we have better reason to believe that we’ll need them. That is exactly the kind of project that should be left to future funding sources, if it ends up being needed at all.

The facilities plan also includes additions to Northwest Junior High, South East Junior High, Lemme Elementary, Garner Elementary, and City High that are not justified by our enrollment projections, even ten years out. The enrollment projections for Northwest Junior High never rise above its current listed capacity. The projections show South East’s enrollment being under its current capacity for nine of the next ten years. If the new elementary school is built at the new site, there is no urgent need for a Garner addition; if there is eventually an elementary school near the new high school, we may never need the Garner addition. The City High zone is projected to have between 31 and 96 students over its current listed capacity, but the projections do not account for the fact that some of City’s students (probably at least 50) will end up at Tate Alternative High School—yet the plan calls for adding 150 seats to City.

(I understand that some buildings need larger common areas (cafeterias, libraries, etc.) even to accommodate their expected enrollments. My objection here is to classroom additions that are designed to accommodate increases in enrollment that our projections don’t support.)

The plan also includes an addition to Wood Elementary, and the board is considering including an addition to Alexander Elementary. Alexander is certainly over capacity, and our projections show growth at Wood. But before spending millions on additions, the board should at least consider simply making those schools’ attendance zones smaller and reassigning some of their areas to other schools where there is available capacity. Instead, without any discussion of that option, the plan’s solution is build, build, build, no matter how high it pushes the bond’s price tag.

Liberty High’s enrollment is projected to be 322 students above its initial capacity ten years from now. But the plan calls for a 500-seat addition. I tend to think the growth in that area will exceed that projection and that enrollment will probably eventually approach 1500. But the addition is still five years out; why commit to borrowing $6 million for a 500-seat addition that far in advance of knowing what the need will be?

Facilities planning will not come to an end in 2017. If additions become necessary, the board can incorporate them into the ongoing long-term plan. Until there’s a better indication that we will need them, it strikes me as very unwise to commit the district, years in advance, to paying for them.

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Finally, I’d like to see the district commit to developing a career and technical master plan. We need to take a close look at whether we could better serve the significant number of students in our district who are not college-degree-bound. That would entail both curricular and facilities planning; but since we haven’t yet done that planning, it would be premature to identify those facilities needs in this bond proposal.

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I’d like to be a “yes” vote, because I know that there are worthy projects that need funding. The concerns I list above are my starting point; again, I’d be willing to compromise on the list of projects, but there are some proposals I could not in good conscience support. I assume all of the board members have limits to what they can support, and it may well be that there is no common ground on which everyone can agree. On a bond proposal, unanimity is worth trying for, but it’s not the supreme value; in my view, the voters are entitled to know a board member’s candid assessment of any proposal. Ultimately, the decision is up to the voters; if the arguments for a proposal are persuasive enough, it will pass. I could be wrong about how the voters will react to a $190 million proposal, but my instinct is to err on the side of creating the most defensible proposal possible.

Update here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

College readiness and completion of ICCSD high school graduates

The state recently released some “post-secondary readiness” data about Iowa high schools. Specifically, there are charts showing the college enrollment and completion rates, up to five years out, of the graduates of the high school class of 2010. They also show, as to those students who enrolled in a public college or university, what percentage took at least one remedial English or math course within a year of graduating from high school. (That part of the data is from more recent graduating classes.) Here are the charts for City High and West High (click to enlarge, or click on the school name to go to the site):







You can go on the site and look up any high school in Iowa. It’s important to be careful about drawing broad conclusions from any one set of data, but I wanted to post these because I’ve always been curious about college completion rates and about just how many students start pursuing a college degree but don’t finish. One thing it shows is that five years after graduating, a significant portion of our high school graduates—between 30 and 40 per cent—had not received a college degree and were not pursuing one. I know we will never send all of our graduates to college, and I don’t see that as the goal. But I think it’s still a fair question whether we are adequately serving those students, whether college is in their future or not.

These charts, by the way, are defining “remedial math course” very narrowly, to cover only non-credit-bearing remedial work. Karen W. explains here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

School board agenda for Tuesday, January 24

Some of the things on the agenda for this week’s school board meeting:

  • A report from the Student Climate Survey Task Force


  • The 2016-17 enrollment, demographics, and class size report


  • The results of the district’s drinking water lead testing, including some results that were “notable”

At our work session, we’ll continue to discuss the facilities master plan and related bond proposal (info here and here).

The full agendas are here and here. Please chime in with a comment about anything that catches your attention.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Listening posts are for listening

I enjoyed last night’s school board listening post on the facilities master plan at Kirkwood Elementary School. About twenty people (and several district staff members) came out on a cold winter night to exchange views and ideas about the district’s building plans. (It was almost caucus-esque!) Two more listening posts are scheduled next week.

One thing I wish had been different, though: A listening post on the facilities master plan should not be preceded by a twenty-minute commercial for the facilities master plan. I understand that it’s helpful to present some information at the outset so people can have well-informed discussions, but it should not be presented in a way designed to influence the opinions we’ll hear from the participants.

The hard question facing the board is just what it takes to create a bond proposal that has a reasonable chance of attaining 60% approval at the polls. I was very curious to hear people’s opinions on that question last night. Of course, people who attend the listening posts may be particularly likely to favor the bond, but even those who most strongly favor the bond have to think objectively about how to maximize its chances of passage. If they voice their opinions only after sitting through a lengthy pro-bond argument, without hearing any of the likely counterarguments, they’re going to be in less of a position to realistically assess the prospects of different proposals.

Similarly, the group activities should not involve leading questions. (“Please share a short story of how the facilities project(s) have impacted your students.”)

I’ve written before about how our district sometimes seems incapable of soliciting public input without trying to manipulate it. Why walk right into that criticism?

Monday, January 9, 2017

Enrollment projections versus planned capacity

In preparing for the board’s discussion of the facilities master plan and possible bond proposals, I updated my chart showing projected enrollment versus planned building capacity. I thought I might as well post it in case anyone finds it useful. I don’t trust myself not to have made any errors in filling it out, so please let me know if you catch one. The sources are listed at the end.

Notice that the entire table is based on the future elementary and secondary boundaries. So, for example, there are projections for Grant and Hoover East in 2017 and 2018, even though those schools won’t open until until 2019.

This document can give you a good sense of the timeline of projects under the current facilities plan, which was created before the board drew new attendance zones and before we received our latest set of enrollment projections. An overview of the facilities plan, with estimated project costs, is here. More detail here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

School board agenda for Tuesday, January 10

This week, among other things, the board will hear an update on the district’s progress on the issue of seclusion enclosures (previous posts here and here), we’ll hear an update about state legislative issues that affect the schools, and we’ll consider whether to adopt the latest version of the draft policy articulating the district’s weighted resource allocation model—that is, its effort to funnel more resources toward higher-need schools.

At the work session, we’ll discuss how to go forward with the plans to ask the voters for bonding authority to fund projects in the district’s facilities master plan. (Info here.) The board chair, Chris Lynch, has proposed that we initially ask for authority only for projects in the first two or three years of the plan, which would mean asking the voters to authorize about $75-95 million in bonds. The remaining projects could be funded either by subsequent bond votes or via the SAVE tax if the legislature eventually extends that tax.

The board will also discuss whether there should be changes in the facilities plan as we consider what an initial bond proposal would include. A (presumably non-exhaustive) list of potential topics appears here.

The full meeting agendas are here and here; please chime in with a comment about anything that catches your attention.

Follow-up: Voluntary transfers

At our last board meeting, I moved to prohibit next year’s ninth-graders from transferring into Liberty High from outside Liberty’s attendance area, and the motion passed. Here are my reasons for the motion:

First, ninth-grade transfers will worsen the projected overcrowding at Liberty. When Liberty opens, it will have a capacity of 1000 seats, and our enrollment projections show that, even without any voluntary transfers, its enrollment will be over 1000 as of 2019-20:


By contrast, Liberty in its first two years (2017-18 and 2018-19) is likely to be underfilled, because students from the classes of 2018 and 2019 are allowed to finish up at West High if they choose to.

As a result, I was not against allowing juniors and seniors to transfer into Liberty next year, since they will help fill the building in its initial years and will be gone before the building becomes overcrowded. But I had concerns about allowing freshmen and sophomores to transfer in next year, because they will still be there when the enrollment exceeds the building’s capacity. By the time next year’s freshmen graduate, Liberty is projected to be already 12% over capacity (while we anticipate plenty of space available at West High). Any transfers we allow will simply make that number worse.

Second, the board needs to consider this issue in light of its decision assign the Kirkwood area to the Liberty High zone. The board chose to require students in the Kirkwood area, which has a relatively high proportion of students from low-income households, to attend Liberty, in order to promote socioeconomic balance among the secondary schools. I voted against that decision, because I was concerned that Kirkwood-area students would be made worse off by having to attend schools that are farther away and more difficult to get to and from. But now that they’re assigned to Liberty, the least we can do is not overcrowd the building.

Moreover, there is a fairness issue. Many Kirkwood-area students are effectively required to attend Liberty whether they want to or not. Freshman and sophomores are ineligible to transfer out of Liberty in 2017-18, and even if transfers were available, students must provide their own transportation, which lower-income families are less likely to have the means to do. Again, the board majority justified the Kirkwood decision on the grounds that it would promote socioeconomic balance and reduce overcrowding. So how could the board then allow better-off families—those with the means to provide their own transportation—to transfer into Liberty, even when it would undermine socioeconomic balance and worsen overcrowding? If we’re willing to say “no” to low-income families, we need to be willing to say “no” to better-off families too.

At the meeting, I could not get a clear sense of how the administration planned to handle transfer requests into Liberty, so I moved to close Liberty High to transfers from ninth graders (except for those who meet hardship criteria) next year. The motion passed, 4-3. (Board members Hemingway, Roesler, Roetlin, and I voted yes; Directors DeLoach, Kirschling, and Lynch voted no.)

Liberty is slated to receive a 500-seat addition as of 2022-23 (a year after next year’s freshmen will graduate). As we get closer to that date, become more certain of the funding for the addition, and have a better sense of how much growth to expect in the Liberty zone, it will make sense for the board to revisit the transfer issue.

Previous posts here.