Monday, February 29, 2016

Capacity v. proximity

As the board embarks on redrawing elementary boundaries in preparation for opening two new elementary schools in 2019, we’re getting a lot of input from people about which zones they’d like to be in. We’ll hear more of that input at our special board meeting tomorrow night (Tuesday, March 1).

We’re hearing a good deal of discussion about how much (if at all) the board should try to create “balanced” school populations, socioeconomically and in terms of English-language learner and special-education status. That’s certainly a topic worth discussing. But we don’t hear nearly as much acknowledgement of another factor that’s likely to affect redistricting: building capacity. I wonder if people are aware of the role capacity is likely to play.

All other things being equal, I think it’s safe to say that most people would like to be assigned to their closest school. One problem that can arise, though, is that the number of kids who are closest to School X might be larger than the capacity of School X. In that case, the proximity concern runs up against a concern about overcrowding. At some point, capacity constraints could force is to send some kids to a school that isn’t the closest one. We couldn’t send a thousand kids to a school that can only hold six hundred.

I suspect we will run up against capacity concerns like that in some instances. For example, under the capacity calculations that the district has based its facilities master plan on, Penn Elementary can hold 587 kids. I wouldn’t be surprised if significantly more than 587 kids can say that they live closer to Penn than to any other school. If so, how could we put them all at Penn?

Garner is very close to Penn, but unless we change its boundaries, Garner is projected to be almost 150 students overcrowded even after it gets its addition in 2019. The closest school for the wide majority of its students is probably Garner itself or Penn, which is also projected to be over capacity in 2019. It may well be impossible to alleviate that overcrowding without sending some kids to a school that is not their closest school.

The flip-side may also be true. How many kids will be able to say that the new Grant Elementary is their closest school? That number could be well below the six hundred kids that the school will be able to hold. So if we want to make as much use as we reasonably can of Grant’s capacity—to help alleviate the overcrowding at the other North Corridor schools— we may have to send some kids to Grant who live closer to other schools.

(Those are just possible examples; similar concerns may arise in other parts of the district as well.)

In the longer run, it may make sense to address some of those concerns by building new capacity—either new schools or additions to existing schools—where the population is growing. But our current facilities plan already exceeds the money available to us, and therefore depends on voter approval of a large bond. So building additional capacity has its own challenges.

I’m not saying that I have great answers to any of these questions—just that if we end up not being able to send some neighborhoods to the closest schools, there’s a good chance it will be because of capacity issues.


low said...

It seems very clear that the need for one elementary school would be avoided or at least delayed if the district did not tear down Hoover. It's real hard to take the board seriously when it complains of lack of capacity while at the same time destroying capacity. I suspect a number of bond voters will agree.

Paul said...

Low, can you explain to me how Hoover being open helps alleviate the North Corridor's over crowding? What will impact it, with the bond passage though, is Christine Grant Elementary being built.
The bond vote might not even be needed and if it is I think a lot of people will vote for the bond because of what it provides all kids in the district.

Chris said...

I think Low’s point is clear, and I agree with it. If we tear down three hundred seats of elementary capacity on the east side, the east side will need new capacity that much sooner as its population grows. In other words, we’ll be *creating* a capacity need on the east side when there are real needs in the North Corridor and elsewhere. In fact, that “need” is already built into the facilities plan and the bond, since part of the bond will pay for a $3 million, 125-seat addition at Lemme, which wouldn’t be necessary if Hoover is kept open. And that’s just the beginning of replacing Hoover’s lost capacity.

If I lived in the North Corridor, I would not want to be needlessly competing with the east side of Iowa City for scarce facilities funding.

Paul said...

Chris I'm curious what the cost would be to not do the additional seats at Lemme yet still add the other additions such as the multipurpose room and office entry. Then you would need to go back to Hoover and renovate that school to include a multipurpose room and update.

Something else to consider if you change Lincoln's attendance area in the next cycle and take out North Lincoln and the trailer park off 80 closes as is planned won't there be extra seats available at Lincoln?
Finally I'd love to see a plan for expanding City High to address capacity needs, athletic needs, parking, media center expansion and a cafeteria large enough to serve all the students.

Paul said...

One more thing I forgot to add it's not North Side vs East Side or West Side vs East Side. Thinking that way only drives a wedge in our district. It's the district as a whole that is deciding how to spend those scarce dollars and the district has a lot of needs.

Chris said...

Paul -- I'd love to know the cost of whatever remaining improvements Hoover would need to stay open, including a multi-purpose room. As a board member, I've asked for the information and have received no answer. There is absolutely no reason to think that those improvements would cost anywhere near what it would cost to build 300 seats of new capacity, however. Hoover has (in 2014) already received many of the necessary improvements, including air conditioning, new wiring throughout the building, painting, roof repair and replacement, new carpeting and tile flooring in many parts of the building, completely new fixtures and handicapped-accessibility improvements in the bathrooms, motion-sensitive lighting, newly installed security cameras and doors, and some asbestos abatement.

Regardless of what happens in redistricting, throwing away 300 seats of elementary capacity will create a capacity need as east side enrollment grows.

City will receive improvements and additions in the second phase of its addition, but there has been no showing that it can't receive them without taking Hoover's 5.7 acres. (In fact, one of the scenarios that the district floated had the additions being built while Hoover was still open.) But why is no effort being made to explore other (most likely cheaper) ways to add to City's property -- for example, through voluntary sales of surrounding homes? (Full disclosure: I don't mean my own house, which is on the far north side of City. It is very unlikely that City would want to expand in that direction, in any event.) There is so much talk of City's land needs, yet the district didn't lift a finger to explore buying Chadek's Field, only a block or two away and about as large as Hoover's property, which the City ended up buying for roughly $300,000.

As for whether an elementary school should be torn down so the high school can have more athletic fields and parking lots, we will just have to disagree. But all of those City High improvements depend on 60% voter approval of a nine-figure bond, as does our ability to address the real capacity needs that are already there in the North Corridor. I do not think that planning to throw away existing capacity by closing a neighborhood school is any way to generate public support for a bond -- though again, I think you and I just disagree about that.

Chris said...

Sorry, I think the system ate Paul's last comment, which was:

"One thing to point out. If I'm not mistaken it is possible that we might not need to pass a GO Bond if the penny tax passes at the state level, correct?"

My reply: I'm not so sure about that. The SAVE penny, if it is continued, would definitely add to our revenue stream, but I don't know whether it would be enough to fund all of our planned projects or whether we could access it in time to build all of our currently planned projects on schedule.

Paul said...

According to Superintendent Murley it would fund our current 10 year plan AND give us $70 million for other projects, which I would like to use possibly for another school in the north.

Chris said...

If that's the case, I'd be happy to have it, but it's still not an excuse for spending millions of dollars without a good enough reason. (It will just be that much easier to give Hoover its remaining improvements, right?)

Closing an elementary school is a big deal for many reasons; the rationale for the Hoover closure just isn't sufficient to justify a school closure. Again, we apparently disagree on that. One way or another, the issue will ultimately be up to the voters.

low said...

Paul, in my view it is a simple matter of priorities: where should the money that we have be first spent? Should it be in building a new Hoover when we could instead keep the old Hoover? Or should we spend the money to build a new north corridor school? To me the north corridor area should be the priority. When the east side because of population growth needs a new school, let's build them a new school. When they need it.

And remember that City High is going to be dropping in enrollment by several hundred students. Let's wait to see where the enrollment actually goes before we try to guess what may be needed.

We can say that we are all one district, but the bond voters (or at least more than 40% of them) are going to want some indication that reasonable priorities have been chosen and that it is more than giving everyone enough for everyone to be happy.

Paul said...

Not sure I see where City High's numbers will be dropping by several hundred. The projections don't show that that I can recall.

Chris said...

Paul -- Last May, when the board adopted the new feeder plan, City High had an enrollment of about 1600 students. The feeder plan the board adopted would have resulted in an enrollment that year of 1387, so that's a drop of over two hundred students. This year, City's enrollment is 1668, so presumably the number under the new plan would be about a couple hundred less than that. Once elementary boundaries are also adjusted, the number could well drop even further (for example, if parts of the Lincoln attendance zone end up rezoned into a school that feeds into West or Liberty).

Chris said...

On closer inspection, it looks like the board was using 1558 as the then-current figure for City. So the new feeder plan (then called 5F) resulted in about 170 fewer students at City. And again, that's before any changes in the elementary zoning that might further lower that number.

Paul said...

Thank you for the clarification

Anonymous said...

The FMP's development over the last 8 years has hinged on busing and an SES Integration and Balancing plan.

Given the massive shortcomings of SES Integration and Balancing Plans the FMP should be reconstructed.

The idea that Iowa City is going to become a "busing centric education system" that successfully engineers concentrated poverty shifts in the name of "better education for all" will never come to fruition. The plan is flawed at its core and reviews of the districts that have tried it show this over and over. Minorities fall further behind, the district weakens, and people with a focus on education find better options with more stability.

A poor vision met with equally poor planning and research has landed Iowa City in a mess.