Tuesday, January 26, 2016

School board agenda for January 26

Sorry to be posting this so late; I was distracted by drafting a longer post about the options for changing the bell schedule, which I hope to post within the next couple of days.

Some of the items on the agenda for tonight’s board meeting:

Discretionary busing. The district has to provide busing to K-8 students who live more than two miles from school and to high school students who live more than three miles from school. The district can choose to provide buses to kids who wouldn’t qualify for them based on distance from school; that’s known as “discretionary busing.” We have done that for some neighborhoods, sometimes on the theory that there were particular safety concerns. Director Chris Lynch has proposed that we change our criteria for providing discretionary busing to focus exclusively on areas with lots of kids who are “at risk” of not getting to school, rather than on safety. You can read his full proposal here. More information here.

Redistricting. We’ll discuss our process for deciding how to redistrict elementary attendance zones as we plan to open two new elementary schools in 2019, and in particular our process for gathering community input. At our work session, a neighborhood “caucus” system was proposed, under which people would gather input from their neighborhood (however they define it) and submit that group feedback to the board. The proposed form for that feedback is here. Some board members (including me) raised concerns about whether that process would be sufficiently inclusive. We’ll discuss that issue again tonight. More information here.

An update on the bell schedule task force. I’ll post more on this topic soon. Information here.

Magnet school. We’ll discuss the results of the district’s survey about the possibility of starting a magnet school. Information here.

We’ll vote on the proposed 2016-17 school calendar. The proposal is here.

We’ll discuss our preliminary budget assumptions for 2016-17.

And more! The full agenda is here. Feel free to leave a comment below about anything that catches your attention.


Sara Barron said...

Chris, at your last meeting you learned that our schools are failing to educate over half of our Black and Latinx students to the standards of basic proficiency. How is this not explicitly on every agenda until it is fixed?

Chris said...

Sara -- Thanks for the comment. It's a huge issue and you're right that we can't just move on. For what it's worth: we do have a discussion of early literacy education (and in particular its implementation at Twain Elementary) on the agenda tonight. Info here. I didn't list it separately because I think it will mostly be review of the discussion we had at our Education Committee meeting last week. I do think the board is very conscious of the problem you're identifying, though I'm not sure we're of one mind about how to address it.

Anonymous said...

For kids who live close to 2 miles away from their assigned elementary school who come from middle class families where both parents work, not getting a discretionary bus is a big risk for not getting to school and harming their educational achievement.

If distant discretionary bus routes are cut, then every effort should be made to assign children to their closest school which is the most walkable.

Safety should be a factor also. Crossing RR tracks without arms, 30-40 minute walks in freezing temps, navigating through busy intersections or roundabouts without a crossing guard or crossing signal; these are all factors that need to be considered and the safety of all children whether rich or poor or somewhere in the middle needs to be of the utmost importance.

Sara Barron said...

Thanks for the link, Chris. That seems like good news about the early literacy programming. BUT. Other than a demographic breakdown of the student population at Twain, I don't see race mentioned anywhere in these documents. How do we solve our racial disparities if we don't discuss them directly?

Anonymous said...

Cutting discretionary busing for students who live close to two miles away or who have to cross highways - but then adding busing for kids to move them away from their closest Junior High AND adding the potential cost of an activities bus? Why are we flushing money away on transportation!? This is so backwards it just makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with this post. Thank you for voicing my thoughts. My son is not "at risk" but not having a bus would put his attendance, but more likely my job, in jeopardy.

Chris said...

Anonymous 1, 2 and 3 -- I think the argument that will be presented is this: Resources are scarce and there is a strong argument for concentrating them on low-socio-economic-status (low-SES) students. We're seeing a big proficiency gap with our low-SES students. Sara's right that we also need data that is specific to racial minority status. But either way, there are good reasons to focus scarce resources on those gaps, and making sure the affected kids can get to school is a threshold piece of reducing those gaps.

As to those neighborhoods that currently receive discretionary busing for non-SES-related reasons, I think the argument will be that if those kids are going to be on a bus anyway, we might as well see if we can use that busing to reduce socio-economic disparities between schools, on the theory that if the schools are more "balanced" socioeconomically, we will have more success addressing those proficiency issues among affected groups. In other words, that we should consider either (1) cutting that busing and applying that money elsewhere, or (2) keeping that busing, but assigning those neighborhoods to different schools if it will help create socioeconomic balance, and that we should get some feedback from those neighborhoods about which of those options they would prefer and accommodate that preference if there are practical ways to do that.

What are your thoughts about that argument?

As for busing kids to secondary schools that are farther away when there are schools within walking distance, I do have concerns about that. I don't think we should achieve "balance" at the expense of kids from our highest-poverty attendance areas. The current plan, for example, will bus the kids from Alexander Elementary (on the far southeast side of Iowa City) to junior high in Coralville and then to West High, when they are much closer to Southeast Junior High and somewhat closer to City than to West -- spending a significant amount of money on buses in the process. I'm open to the arguments for using busing to help our kids from high-poverty neighborhoods, but I would need to be convinced that the kids from (for example) Alexander will actually be better off because of those boundaries. I have real doubts that they will be. I would like to see the board revisit the issue of secondary boundaries for that reason. At a recent board work session, however, it was clear that there were not four votes for revisiting that issue. I think it would at least make sense to think again about revisiting them after we've settled the new elementary boundaries.

Anonymous said...

How much of cutting discretionary bussing tonight is due to the forthcoming increases in bussing costs due to distant junior highs for Alexander, Kirkwood & the need to pay for their activity busses? And perhaps there is some foreknowledge of probable increased bussing costs following likely elementary redistricting this spring?