Monday, May 9, 2016

The current secondary feeder plan will create significant overcrowding at Liberty High

[Update: In response to the arguments in this post, my fellow board member Brian Kirschling argued that the growth at Liberty High would not climb as quickly as I estimated, because the students in the North Corridor are disproportionately in the lower grades. As a result, the board asked the administration to project class sizes by looking at the cohorts of students in the different grade levels assigned to Liberty High. Under that analysis, the projected overcrowding would not be as high as I estimate it here, though Liberty High would still be at least 9% overcrowded in 2019 (the first year it has four full classes) and would be overcrowded by over 20% by 2021, and that’s not even accounting for the expected population growth in the North Corridor. I discuss those projections in this post.]

The school board is scheduled to continue its discussion of secondary boundaries at Tuesday’s meeting. The current secondary plan is a “feeder plan”—that is, it designates particular elementary school zones to go to particular secondary schools. As a result, the actual secondary boundaries depend on the boundaries of the elementary zones, which also have to change, since the district plans to open two new elementary schools in 2019.

One thing that concerns me about the current plan is that it will result in overcrowding at Liberty High. When Liberty opens in 2017, it will be a 1000-seat high school; then, five years later, it will receive a 500-seat addition. We don’t have enrollment projections for Liberty, because its boundaries were not settled when we got our most recent projections in 2014 (and they are still not settled). But we do have enrollment projections for our current elementary attendance areas, and we know that there is significant growth projected for the schools that are designated to feed into Liberty High.

One historically reliable way to estimate how many high school students an area will have is to take the number of elementary students and divide by two. (You can see how reliable that rule of thumb is here; our enrollment projections for 2019 also show nearly exactly that ratio. I used the ratio in those projections—2.05:1—for the calculations in this post.) If anything, that rule of thumb has a tendency to slightly understate the high school population.

Under the current plan, five elementary schools feed into Liberty: Garner, Grant, Kirkwood, Penn, and Van Allen. We don’t yet know the exact boundaries for Grant, but we know that it will take at least some portion of the current Wickham zone, where the site for Grant is located. The proposals we’ve seen would put about a quarter of Wickham’s current enrollment there.

It is hard to project what enrollment at Liberty will be in its first two years, because in its first year junior and seniors in the Liberty zone will have the option to remain at West, and in the second year seniors will have that option. But by Liberty’s third year, it’s clear that the current feeder plan will result in significant overcrowding there. Under our projections, the elementary enrollment in our current Garner, Kirkwood, Penn, and Van Allen zones, plus a quarter of the Wickham zone, will be about 2583 students in 2019. That means the high school enrollment generated by those areas is likely to be roughly 1260—twenty-six percent over Liberty’s capacity. (Although the boundaries of those elementary zones could change, it is unlikely that any changes would significantly reduce the number of kids from those zones heading to Liberty.)

And that’s just the bare minimum of what we can expect in the Liberty zone. The Grant scenarios we’ve seen have also included all or part of the “North Lincoln” area, which would add about another 40-60 students to the Liberty enrollment in 2019, pushing it to 30% over capacity. These are conservative estimates; there are concerns that our projections in the North Corridor are not catching the full extent of growth that is likely to occur around Grant and Liberty, so the actual Liberty enrollment could end up even higher.

And that’s just in 2019. Liberty doesn’t get its addition until 2022, and enrollment in the area is projected to grow throughout that time. By 2021, for example—the year before Liberty gets its addition—those elementary zones, even without North Lincoln, are projected to enroll about 2862 students, which likely means almost 1400 high school students, pushing Liberty to almost 40% over capacity, and over 43% if North Lincoln is included.

At the same time, the same kind of projection applied to West High shows about 222 available seats in 2019 and 185 available seats in 2021.

I know that our capacity numbers are meant to include some margin for error—it would probably be better to call them “target enrollment” numbers—and that we can’t expect to bring enrollment at all of our buildings within capacity in the short term. Nonetheless, overages of 20% and above strike me as a concern, especially when there are seats available elsewhere.

There are similar concerns about enrollment exceeding capacity at North Central Junior High, which has a capacity of 505 and does not get an addition until 2021. It’s harder to estimate those numbers, because the current plan allows Kirkwood-area students the option to choose between North Central and North West. But even without counting Kirkwood students or North Lincoln students, North Central is likely to be over capacity in 2018.

Unlike the other areas being routed to Liberty, Kirkwood is significantly closer and more convenient to West High. A high percentage of Kirkwood-area students come from low-income families; sending those kids to more distant secondary schools adds to the difficulties they already face. The great majority of the feedback we’ve received from Kirkwood families is that they prefer to stay at West. Add the overcrowding concern, and it seems particularly unwise to route the Kirkwood area to Liberty High.

[This is the corrected version of a post that I posted earlier today. In the original version, I forgot to take account of the fact that some students would have the option to stay at West during Liberty’s first two years.]


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the obvious question - what would changing the boundaries as you propose do to the SES balance between the three high schools.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Good question -- am working right now on a post that will try to answer that.

Anonymous said...

Moving Kirkwood kids to North Liberty will help with free and reduced numbers at the secondary level. What are the plans for reducing free and reduce numbers at Kirkwood - currently over 70% - in the near future?

Anonymous said...

That's a best-case scenario. If the GO bond fails, neither Liberty nor NCJH get their additions and the overcrowding will be much worse.

Raincloud said...

When determining the new boundaries for CC and Kirkwood, couldn't kids be pulled from the North (Wickham, and southwestern part of Van Allen) and be put into those schools to help with the balance? I find it hard to believe the Kirkwood school has such a high FRL when then are some higher end homes just to the north of it that look walkable to Kirkwood. Then once Kirkwood is balanced, have it go to West High. I also thought Kirkwood had extra seats? Is the district looking at ways to fill the school?
For throughout the district, couldn't kids be moved southward from the North to help with balance and use up seats?

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it make sense to send the North Lincoln kids to Horace Mann and then on to City High? They could come in on Dubuque St. and are currently slated for City High. Oakdale Blvd now goes all the way to Dubuque St. and it didn't not so long ago. It looks like it takes around the same time to get from the North Lincoln neighborhood to West or City High.

Is overcrowding a problem only if students aren't reallocated to other schools and if reallocation would solve the capacity issue, why not do it? What will the capacity of all three high schools be after Liberty is built? If there is room at the other two schools, why not use their capacity first?

Is the biggest problem with the secondary feeder system that Lynch wants to keep junior high students together to move onto high school? Won't this result in more facility expense over time?

Would it make sense to build a fourth junior high and make them 6-8 schools so the district doesn't need so much elementary capacity in the north?

Thanks Chris.

Anonymous said...

Can you free up space at Horn to move more northern kids to Horn by moving some Horn families to Alexander or even reopen Roosevelt?

Also, what happened to ICCSD getting a magnet school? Is this off the table or could a magnet school be used to draw kiddos from the north to the south?

Anonymous said...

The walkable homes to Kirkwood that are not currently assigned there are currently districted to Coralville Central; they would certainly help balance Kirkwood more.

It also looks like there are far too many kids assigned to Central in the coming years if kids go to school where assigned; so in the future it makes sense to put some of that Western chunk of Central that is very close to Kirkwood at Kirkwood.

Kilgore Trout said...

Sounds like we should have planned to open Grant at 1500 capacity and add capacity at NCJH before spending money to add unused capacity on the East side. This seems like a competence issue to me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:33...Instead of bussing kids south from North Lincoln to Mann ($/distance) or building a 4th junior high, instead of an elementary, to meet elementary capacity needs in the north ($$), the district could build adequate elementary capacity in the area where it is needed, like they did with Alexander and Hoover. How many schools are closer for north Lincoln than Mann, SEJH and City? An option for redistricting (reallocating) to fill empty seats would be keeping Kirkwood at NWJH and West.

High school capacity without the Liberty addition would be 4396. The high school enrollment projection for 2022 is 4575. Updated high school projections will likely be higher. We will have well-exceeded our high school capacity by 2022.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me this overcrowding issue is vastly overstate for two reasons. 1) kids can open enroll to the other high schools if they wish - and likely will - especially those that want to go to west from Coralville and 2) the Kirkwood Center is going to take a significant amount of pressure off of all three high schools- how is that factored into these enrollment projections?

Anonymous said...

OK - If Kirkwood goes to West (which it should - closer and easier for the families), then it seems to me Alexander kids should be at City (closer and easier for the families). Why the hell do we have to overthink everything in this district?

3 Jr highs feeding 3 High schools makes sense and it is what the vast majority of parents indicated they want. AGAIN - Why the hell do we have to overthink everything in this district?

Kilgore Trout - Ding Ding Ding Ding - you are correct sir. Adding less-needed capacity on the East side was purely political. It was done to appease the "loud voices" that like to complain about the "loud voices" in the other parts of the district.

Anonymous 8:12 - Don't those kids deserve to be with their friends in Jr. High and High School like the kids in the rest of the district? Don't they deserve to have the same transportation options and know they can go to the same high school all 4 years (things they wouldn't have as transfer students)? Shame on you for being so so selfish.

Anonymous said...

Adding capacity on the east side was not political, it was and is necessary. I agree with you on just about everything else. Kids can go to school with their friends. I am sure that you realize that kids have and make friends from not only their own elementary school but from jr high and high school. Suggesting that voluntarily transferring to another school would keep them from their friends is just inaccurate. Many of the kids will do this VOLUNTARILY. Frankly, it is good for kids to go to a new school and expand their circle of friends. Selfish is wanting what is only best for your own kids/neighborhood and not what is best for the district as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Going to middle schools (grades 6-8) would eliminate the need for close to 1200 elementary seats. Given the excess elementary capacity is on the East side, any guesses which schools would close? At least 3 would need to close. I'm guessing it would be some combination of Lincoln, Hills, Mann, Shimek and old Hoover.

A better option is to wait to build a fourth junior high until we need one, followed years later by a fourth high school.

Anonymous said...

"Selfish" might also be deciding what is good for other peoples' kids and then insinuating they don't care what is best for the district as a whole.

Just because they disagree with you doesn't mean they don't care about the district.

Stability is important to kids both emotionally and educationally.

Adding capacity for North Liberty and Coralville kids is also not political and should not be treated as such. As you say, it is necessary.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:12

Based on your caring suggestions, it is very transparent that you concern is only for one area of our district.

Any rational person from outside this district who looked at the elementary numbers and growth patterns and growth projections would agree that building new elementary capacity in the far eastern part of the district prior to building where there is more overcrowding, more growth, and projected continued growth was based on something other than dire capacity need.

You seem to be out of touch with the majority of the district. In survey after survey, the inconvenient truth is parents in this district (at both high and low FRL schools) want clean feeders and want to go to the closest school.

Sister schools offers a pretty good option for some of the elementary issues (where the disparity actually causes problems VS. the high school level), but spending money busing kids all over the district when they could walk to closer secondary schools - especially when we need money for teachers district wide - is just wrong.

Anonymous said...

Building a fourth junior and creating 6-8th middle schools, would result in the closure of small schools on the east side. The extra elementary capacity is absolutely not needed there. Close Shimek, Mann, Hills? Lincoln, Shimek, Mann? If you built the fourth junior high where it would specifically help with the elementary overcrowding in the north (Scanlon property?), it might work, but that doesn't make much sense. Building more elementary capacity makes more sense. Build additional junior high capacity when it is needed.

Ted said...

Does anyone know the FRL % for the (3) high schools should the Board do the shifts they are contemplating (Alexander to City, Kirkwood to West, and splitting Lincoln, Mann, Wickham feeders?

It seems to me this would end up close to 50%/20%/<10% for City/West/Liberty. That's pretty stark.

Anonymous said...

Ted, under the new scenarios, the FRL % appears to be 41%/41%/21% for City/West/Liberty. Not sure if that's all students in each district or just the high school students in each district.

See pp. 6-8 of the "Attendance Area FAQs" document for this evening's Board Work Session agenda on the ICCSD website.

Ted said...

Anonymous 9:44

"Any rational person"? Let's try this:

The capacity reports in 2012-13 and 2013-14 showed the east side had FAR less seats available (actually zero in the aggregate) than the West/north schools, and was projected to get worse at a much faster rate. Alexander and (new) Hoover were desperately needed. Van Allen, Borlaug, and Garner had relieved - at least temporarily - capacity issues in those areas. Of course, closing the old Hoover was a terrible idea...who closes a school when capacity is needed.

I would suggest that before you fall into using generic terms like "projected continued growth", you overlay a zoning map and new housing starts over the ICCSD attendance area. You will see two things:
1. The growth in the north in ICCSD's attendance area (not CCA or Solon) is limited by geography...you can see the end already. It's often referred to as a "thumb" for a reason...it can only grow so much up there.
2. The room growth in the west, east, and south is MUCH less limited. Housing starts are have been robust in the East and South even with overcrowded schools, and have picked up even more since Alexander and new Hoover were announced. I think you would be surprised at the amount of houses/dwellings east and south constructed after 2010...it is much, much greater in strict numbers than North Liberty.

FRL balance vs Neighborhood Schools is a valid discussion, and hard to solve. But strict capacity doesn't lie. Borlaug was built too early, Alexander too late.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:44

What an interesting view you have.

You are right - the numbers don't lie, and if you actually look at them, Alexander was not built due to that part of the district having the greatest need for elementary capacity.

There was need (eventually) for more space on the East side, but looking at the entire district at that time, that was NOT the area that had the most capacity need. Bourlaug was not built too early, it was built too far south.

Anonymous said...


Are you only looking at "possible" "overcrowding" at a school which has not even opened yet? Have you done the same enrolment projection for West and City as well? Are you concerned at all if they are and will get "crowded"? Or are you concerned at all what it means for the district if North becomes the whitest school in the district?

Things need to be looked at in perspective.

Anonymous said...


What does it cost to keep clean feeders from the junior high to the high school? I don't remember survey after survey showing clean feeders were demanded by the "vast majority" but cost is an issue and times change.

What is the size of the bond?

Isn't north Lincoln about equal distance from City and West and would result in about the same bussing costs? This busing distance doesn't seem different from a lot of other students in the district.

A lot of high school kids drive anyway and would drive from the wealthier parts of the district.

Paul said...

The SES % numbers for secondary plans are available.

Director Roetlins plan (as referred to in the packet)
City 41% West 41% and Liberty 20%

Current plan
City 37% West 37% Liberty 30%


Paul said...

I also think there might be some errors in how Director Liebig came to his numbers. My counts have Liberty at closer to 1000 students in 2020-21

Anonymous said...

Paul, how did you get your numbers? Chris explained how he got his. "One historically reliable way to estimate how many high school students an area will have is to take the number of elementary students and divide by two. (You can see how reliable that rule of thumb is here; our enrollment projections for 2019 also show nearly exactly that ratio. I used the ratio in those projections—2.05:1—for the calculations in this post.) If anything, that rule of thumb has a tendency to slightly understate the high school population."

Anonymous said...

What is the distance of north Lincoln to Liberty High vs. City High? What is the distance of north Lincoln to NWJH or NCJN vs SEJH? What is the distance of north Lincoln to Wickham, Grant, or Van Allen vs. Mann?

Anonymous said...

Anon 242

If you are also anon 912 you are hilarious.

If you are anon 912, you're OK with building elementary space on the east side when the overcrowding is worse elsewhere in the district, but then have the gall to invoke calls for others to "Think about what is best for the whole district" when you push plans that involve busing other people's kids all over because of your FRL balance concerns at City.

Also interesting idea focusing on North Lincoln kids to City - I suppose you would want to then push out Twain kids.......hmmmmm.....What is that agenda there? Too bad moving the Twain kids out (and the Kirkwood kids) puts more barriers up for the very people who REALLY don't need them. How is that for the good of the whole district again?

Of course you don't remember what the majority of the district has asked for time and again - you don't want to hear it so you try to ignore it.

Clean feeders currently involve sending kids to the closest high school and should again after elementary redistricting - seems like that would have the lowest busing costs.

We are RIGHT back to "Why the hell do we have to overthink everything in this district?"

Ted said...

Anon @ 3:26

"...building elementary space on the east side when the overcrowding is worse elsewhere in the district,"

No other way to say it: you are incorrect.

In 2012-2013, and again in 2013-2014, and again in 2014-15, the facilities plan showed that elementary schools on the east side had less capacity than on the west/north. In fact, the available aggregate capacity available was negative. Not surprising, since no school had been built east of the river in a generation.

I think clean feeders, neighborhood schools, and FRL% balance are all complex issues that are open to many opinions. Capacity is not.

Paul said...

Using the actual grade enrollment at each of those buildings. Like I said, his numbers are off because he's taking 1/2 of a total school enrollment which accounts for the bottom-heavy K-2 kids that don't arrive at Liberty until 2022-2024.

Anonymous said...


You're going to have a hard time convincing me when the school is still at what - 70% enrollment? How many empty elementary seats on the East side of the district right now?

I still maintain Alexander was built when it was built for political appeasement.