Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A different possible way forward

[I drafted the following and have asked that it be added to the agenda for tonight’s school board work session.]

Dear Fellow Directors,

As I’ve mentioned during our recent work sessions, I have growing doubts about the wisdom of proceeding with our current timeline for elementary redistricting, which would have us complete a 2019 redistricting plan by next month. I just wanted to put some of those thoughts in writing and make an initial proposal.

There are several reasons why I think we should reconsider proceeding with elementary redistricting:

  • We’re drawing districts for schools that we don’t plan to open for another three and a half years.

  • We’re using enrollment projections that were done almost five years before those schools are scheduled to open.

  • There is a board election about halfway between now and when the new schools will open. That means that any redistricting we do will be subject to change by the next board. We can’t count on the next board to agree with decisions that we’ve made, especially if those decisions trigger opposition that is expressed in the voting booth.

  • We don’t know whether the funding for Grant and other capacity additions will materialize. If it doesn’t, much of the redistricting we do will have to be undone by the next board.

  • Proceeding on schedule effectively rules out anything but traditional attendance zones. If we wanted to look at other options, such as paired schools or magnet options, it would take longer than just a month or two to develop the proposal and build community support.

  • It may make sense to open Grant in a different location than currently planned, and to defer opening a school on the planned Grant site until a later year when the area around it will be more developed. We should resolve that question before proceeding with elementary redistricting.

  • Redistricting now could decrease the chances of passing a bond in 2017.

  • It is increasingly hard to see how we can get to four “yes” votes on any redistricting plan by our target May deadline.

These reasons basically boil down to two. First, there are too many uncertainties that could end up altering what we would choose to do with 2019 redistricting. Second, I’m afraid that the whole process is taking our eye off the more important ball: putting the district in the best position to pass a bond that will fund our facilities plan.

In my view, that means revisiting the Facilities Master Plan. Again, it’s possible that we might have better options for where to put the next new school in the North Corridor. That, in turn, could affect when we would proceed with the Garner addition, and/or how large that addition should be. That in turn could affect the scheduling of other additions. It’s also possible (especially after we get updated enrollment projections) that we will find that we need additional capacity in the North Corridor sooner than we were expecting. If it were up to me, we would reverse the decision to close Hoover Elementary, so as not to generate a capacity need on the east side any sooner than necessary. As a result, I would cancel the Lemme addition. Whatever renovations Hoover still needs could be put later in the timeline, enabling us to advance other projects that are more urgent—for example, we might then be able to address overcrowding at Horn. I could go on.

If there’s a reasonable possibility that we’ll alter the Facilities Master Plan after getting new enrollment projections, it just doesn’t make sense to do redistricting first. Moreover, redistricting will divert our energy from the more important task. The importance to the district of getting the board and the community united around a bond proposal far outweighs the value of settling 2019 boundaries now.

Here’s what I would propose:

1. Table elementary redistricting for now. Alternatively, confine our discussion of elementary redistricting to changes that we could make in 2017 to address urgent needs (such as particularly urgent overcrowding concerns) that can’t wait until 2019.

2. Settle secondary boundaries as soon as possible. To do so, we should draw Liberty’s boundary by anticipating what our decision about Grant’s southern boundary would be if it goes forward on its planned site. (It would not be necessary, though, to settle the boundary between Grant and Garner or Penn, since those students will all attend Liberty regardless.) In my view, we should consider splitting some elementary schools after sixth grade—for example, sending “North Lincoln” (or some portion of it) to North Central and Liberty even if we don’t yet know whether they will be districted out of Lincoln for elementary school.

3. Obtain updated enrollment projections as soon as we can.

4. Revisit the Facilities Master Plan using updated projections and with an eye on maximizing the chance of bond passage.

5. Then return to the topic of elementary redistricting. Although it makes sense for the final decision on 2019 attendance zones to be made by the next board, we could play a constructive role by developing concrete options (traditional attendance areas? paired schools? magnets?) that candidates and voters could discuss during the 2017 board election.

I am writing this fairly quickly in hopes of getting it on the agenda for the April 12 work session. I mean it only as a starting point for discussion. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I believe that tabling the redistricting could cause more people to not support the GO Bond. Personally I want to know what I am voting for. Like it or not most people hold their personal interests first priority and are not going to be all in on a plan with so much uncertainty (especially if they believe that it is unfavorable to them). I am not an expert on how the GO Bond works, but it seems like there is a lot of things currently tied to it and hinging on it passing. It seems like tabling the redistricting gives the impression that iccsd is going to "get the money and then change up the plan" (to put it bluntly - not that this hasn't happened before) The topic of redistricting has been on the table for many many years now and is a constant source of stress for many families - not know where they will go to ES, JH, HS from year to year, will they go to the same school as their siblings etc. Let's just make a decision and stick to it an let the people decide if they agree by voting for it - if it has the communities support it will pass - if it doesn't then it will not pass - Seems simple.

Anonymous said...

Good letter. Would also look at junior highs and whether kids should move as a block to high school.

What is the size of the bond now?

Anonymous said...

If secondary boundaries are FULLY done now, which for a while will result in split feeder schools in the North and hopefully for Alexander also, then I don't see how kids would go to 4 different schools in four years. They will go to their elementary school, the feeder junior high for where their house is located instead of according to the district secondary feeder plan, and on to the assigned high school.

I couldn't agree more that this is the way to go. It makes no sense to set elementary boundaries when we don't know if additions, renovations, and new schools will be built. Or if Hoover will actually be closed.

Anonymous said...

So how exactly does the GO Bond work and realistically what do we think are our chances of this passing? Does the GO Bond just ask for $X,000,000 or is it attached to specific projects? Could this be broken out into smaller amount bonds for different projects to increase the chance of some success for passing or does it have to be all or none? It seems like there is a pretty large number currently attached to the GO bond - maybe $200 million? The GO Bond is for 2017, correct? Is there any backup plan or discussion about options if this doesn't pass?

EDJ said...

Chris- I don't think tabling projects and making the planned path forward ambiguous is going to help the GO BOND pass. Quite the opposite, in fact. If you want to get a spending measure passed, you present a clear picture of the projects it will fund. That's been done here, with a careful geographic balance intended to make it in the interests of a broad range of voters across the district to vote to approve it. Any changes made need to preserve that balance. Breaking it up into smaller projects risks enabling the kind of facilities disparities that the plan was put together to eliminate.

For the life of me, I don't understand how an elected board could engage in any long-range planning if fear of future boards overturning decisions were to always be given so much weight.

Anonymous said...

How anybody can say that the FMP equally balances need across the entire district is beyond me.

For the GO Bond: an 800 plus elementary seat shortage in the North, a hundred seat shortage in the West, and an excess of several hundred seats in the East? Where is the geographic balance in elementary seat need? Likewise for the junior highs, the North needs 250 seats whereas very few are needed in the East/West. Lastly, 500 seats needed in the high school in the north, and no seats are really needed in either of the other high schools assuming we want to hold to the district belief in equal sized high schools.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:57 - perhaps because the older Iowa City schools have been vastly neglected due to the unchecked NL growth outpacing the available funds to address both the growth and neglected buildings - or the fact the southeast part of our district went nearly 20 years with temporary cities on multiple schools while bright/shiny schools were built for the most expensive neighborhoods being built in the district. Also, if you look at where the pre-bond funds are being spent it's almost directly proportional to the population of each section - if not still weighted in a higher proportion being spend again on NL/north CV.

Anonymous said...

How come influential east side leaders were so resolute about bringing Lincoln over to the east side 6 years ago (in the name of "balance" and "improving educational outcomes") yet Lincoln (and Shimek for that matter) were never integrated with Mann? I thought this plan was supposed to be "their answer." With all of the people on the east side believing SES Balancing/Busing is the answer why did they squander their opportunity to roll out the plan with these 3 eastside elementary schools? Yet they are willing to unleash the plan district wide?

Of course the plan's supporters are just fine with moving a lot of "other" people around in the name of their plan. Bring in Lincoln move out Alexander. Bring in North Dubuque move out Broadway.

I see how it is.

Anonymous said...

As a former teacher, I find it unconscionable that certain schools are trying to manipulate the zones, so as not to have certain student populations at their schools. These are the very students that need to feel welcomed and included. Having taught low income kids with a myriad of behavioral and social issues, I would never advocate adding to those burdens by sending them across town and out of their neighborhood. I simply don't see that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Would I rather have kids with fewer "problems?" Sure, but that is not reality. If it's acceptable to send lower income kids out of their neighborhoods, then why isn't it acceptable to send middle-upper income kids out of their neighborhoods? After watching the shenanigans of the past few years, I'm am very wary of any plan that is presented by the ICCSD Board and am unsure of my stand on the bond.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:01. Are you saying you support the FMP because it doesn't address the capacity needs in the corridor? And, you are okay with the amount of corridor capacity that is on the bond and therefore at risk if it doesn't pass? That is not very child-centered. You go on to reference the $$$ spent in relation to population. The school district should be addressing the needs of students, not balancing the dollars spent per population or municipality.

Anonymous said...

I really don't think it matters what the current FMP is - thing are going to change. The following is my opinion, I don't have any insider information but just reading between the lines it appears that the powers that be (Murley, Lynch, et al) are slowing closing the older and smaller schools and building new mega-schools. While it seems to make no sense there is a reason we are building up huge capacity on the East side while the North waits - it is setting up for more closures. Build up the East side first - Alexander and new Hoover because the money is there now and it is an easy sell. First close old Hoover, build new Hoover. Then close Lincoln - I mean - we have space at other schools now. Why keep that old tiny school with no AC open - it is going to need $5M just to bring up up to modern standards - plus I mean it has the lowest FRL and it out best performing school - that isn't fair. Next up for closure maybe Mann, maybe Shimek, maybe others? We are going to build a new 600 student Grant where it appears to be needed - but only if the bond passes - and wait now we might be looking for a different location for it even though the land is there and it has been planned for some time? They know that the GO Bond will never pass if there is talk of more small neighborhood school closures - I can understand that thinking. Just look at what has happened with the closing of Hoover. Why is there no contingency plan if the Go Bond doesn't pass - oh wait there is we have all this extra capacity on the East side - perfect time to really shake things up - you know time are tough. Even the discretionary busing timing fits right in. First get a distraction - eliminate any busing that we don't have to provide by law - oh wait not everyone just maybe a third of those that we think can afford other transportation don't get busing, everyone else still does. Now propose adding a bus option back by going to a school that is farther away that wouldn't otherwise get a bus - now that option looks a little better for those that have working parents that can't drive kids to school every day because walking is unsafe. Now I am not saying that building the mega schools and closing the smaller and older inefficient schools is necessarily a bad thing - at some point this will have to be done. The way it appears to be happening is most concerning and I really think that there is enough uncertainty and discontent that it will be difficult for the GO Bond to pass.

Anonymous said...

I'd never vote for a bond at this point. The east side political movement has taken the school district hostage and Murley has no control. Until times change (new Superintendent) and social engineering experiments are a thing of the past "No" Vote for GO bond.

Anonymous said...

I haven't been in the area very long, but quickly caught on to the East vs. West struggle. Does anyone understand the human psyche around here? After all, this is purported to be a very intellectual community. One can't force others-especially those with means-to do something that they don't want to do. And those without means? They shouldn't be forced to either. Give us ALL the respect that we deserve.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the needs of the kids are getting overlooked. Put new Hoover on hold til needed and get a school built where the kids are now.

Otherwise, build new Hoover, watch more Iowa City schools close and have there not be enough seats where kids live. Oh and Hills students will need to go to Alexander to fill it up.

9:31 is on point except closing older schools shouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Murley and the east side political movement have shaped the decision making of the district for the last 8 years. They brought in a poorly researched idea and now want to make it the law of the land (SES Busing and balancing). And they spent the last 5 or more years building the district's FMP around that poorly researched idea. And they are totally comfortable holding the district hostage with that FMP. Well, it doesn't have to be that way.

There's a reason the Super can't keep his staff. And there's a reason the Super's resume is circulating. The district needs to be looking for a new Superintendent who has and a proven track record of success with growing districts. And someone who doesn't give in to a political movement that fist pounds from the bully pulpit to get their way. Let Murley go, he is well suited for an administrative position at a Charter or Magnet school.

People of the district want stable school boundaries. People of the district want less busing and more neighborhood schools where they can walk to school and establish neighborhood peer groups. People of the district pay some of the highest tax rates in the state to a school district that wants to experiment (despite overwhelming evidence of failure) with busing and integration and constant boundary reshaping. Really?

Maybe their plan is about bringing students like Lincoln east and sending students like Alexander west? Is this social engineering of student populations using income status a proxy for race? I see a lot of white and asian kids at Lincoln and a lot of african-american students at Alexander.

It is flat out illegal to use economic status as a proxy for race. It is flat out illegal to balance schools according to race. And there's a reason for this. Who were the students at Alexander who were going to be "selected" to go to West? Why did the east side movement grab Lincoln and north Dubuque but move Broadway to West? Put the poor kids on the bus and send them away. So sad to see a side of town that is so uncomfortable with what they have become over the last 5 decades. And it's shameful the way they are willing to treat kids and families who need the most support. And it's shameful that they were so willing to do so little research on the effectiveness of their plan. I blame fear and greediness for that. And it is overshadowing the real issue of knowing and understanding the cause and effect relationships between SES status and academic outcomes. Something that is currently being researched and understood. Yet here we stand in a fight against a bogus plan wasting our time and falling behind.

You want to inspire the Iowa Gov. to invest in education with this costly and ineffective "integration policy?" What would the district have done if the one time spending money came our way last year? If you say pour it into busing in the name of the SES integration and busing plan you'd be correct. Kudo's to the governor for knowing more. And BTW the state's money will be there when the district returns to education policy rooted in education and educational research. It's time for a change.

low said...

For me its quite simple and need not be over-analyzed. (1) Closing down old Hoover results in the need to build a new easy side school, the money for which would be better spent in the north. (2) I don't trust Murley or the board - if anyone thinks that the GO bond election will include an obligation to build specific projects, they are naive. Instead, it will ask for open-ended spending authority (3)past performance suggests that any representations about how the GO money would be spent will not be honored and (4)either we take diversity into account when we redistrict or -despite all the self promotion that Iowa City gives itself for being "progressive" - we will end up with some very black and poor schools and some very white and rich schools.

Right now the only prudent vote is "no" to the bond.

EDJ said...

Low, in answer to some of your points:
(1) Closing down old Hoover results in the need to build a new easy side school, the money for which would be better spent in the north.

-actually, no. The need to build a new East side school doesn't come from closing Hoover. The new East side school comes in response to population growth further to the East and also lets us stop busing Windsor Ridge kids in past two different schools to Longfellow. Hoover is placed in an area that is overserved by close elementary schools. We need a building where the students are and are going to be.

(2) I don't trust Murley or the board - if anyone thinks that the GO bond election will include an obligation to build specific projects, they are naive. Instead, it will ask for open-ended spending authority.

Regardless of who you trust or don't trust, there is a Facilities Master Plan with a specific list of projects, schedules for completion, and cost estimates. We're already into that plan, and so far, are both ahead of schedule and under budget.

(3)past performance suggests that any representations about how the GO money would be spent will not be honored and...

I don't really know what past performance you're referring to, but, note that money spent on the stages of the plan we've undertaken so far has been per the plan, and that as I said above, its under budget and ahead of schedule.

(4)either we take diversity into account when we redistrict or -despite all the self promotion that Iowa City gives itself for being "progressive" - we will end up with some very black and poor schools and some very white and rich schools.

I think this is very, very true. But its pretty true right now already unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

1. Windsor Ridge is close to Lemme, Lucas and Hoover. Alexander is no where near full so all seats should be filled before building more in Iowa City. The north needs a school now and a bond might fail so why not build north now?
2. You're right, the FMP is a list but it doesn't mean much going forward. Penn wasn't on time. Who is to say ICCSD is on budget? No one even says how large the bond is.
3. Murley promised all schools would be taken care of prior to the RPS vote and it was a big surprise that Hoover was to be closed. What big surprises will be next?

Anonymous said...

Actually, a GO bond is drastically different from the RPS in that the specific items to be funded have to be listed and the funds then used for those projects.

Matt Townsley said...

I am not as familiar with the specifics of Iowa City school boundaries, however I was intrigued by a few comments in this post suggesting a current board should not make decisions that a future board may overturn. Because school boards can turnover every two years, at what point do you feel a board of education should be able to make any decisions that could hypothetically be more than two years away? For example, superintendents are sometimes offered three year contracts. Multiple year strategic plans can be established. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Matt, this is the ICCSD. Please check your logical thinking at the door.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4/17 8:11 "the funds then used for those projects" Ha! Not exactly.

Over time IF a yes to the bond, there will be changes and schools could be closed.

Chris said...

Matt — Sure, a board has to make lots of decisions that will extend beyond the next election. I did not mean to suggest that that should never happen. In this particular circumstance, though, we won’t even know until after the election whether we have the funding to build the new school (and other additions) that we’re districting for. And settling districts by next month pretty much rules out some alternatives that some people in the community might want to pursue. In addition, in my view, if we want a bond proposal that has a chance at passage in 2017, we do need to make some changes to our facilities plan, and it simply doesn’t make sense to draw districts before we’ve had that conversation. And it doesn’t make sense to draw districts three and half years out when we don’t have updated enrollment projections for those areas—and those enrollment projections may also influence what we do with the facilities plan. So drawing districts now for three and a half years from now strikes me as putting the cart before the horse.