Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is the Hoover petition legally valid?

This week the board received a legal opinion from the district’s lawyer about the petition to put the demolition of Hoover Elementary on the ballot. This purpose of this post is to discuss the issue, summarize the opinion we received from the district’s lawyer, and explain why I think the issue needs more consideration.

Too-long-didn’t-read version: A close look at the legislative history of the relevant statutes shows that voters can validly petition to put the demolition of a school building onto the ballot. Moreover, the contrary interpretation would apply not just to voter petitions but also to school board decisions, leading to the (absurd) conclusion that no one—not even a school board—has the power to demolish a school building. So I think the district should take a second look at the statutes in light of their legislative history. Now here’s the long version:

The statutes

There are two key Iowa statutes that enable school districts to dispose of school property. For ease of reference, I’ll call them the “Petition Statute” and the “Board Statute.” The Petition Statute gives the voters the power to “direct the sale, lease, or other disposition of any schoolhouse” or other district property, via a petition process to put such an issue on the ballot. The Board Statute gives school boards the power to “sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of a schoolhouse” or other district property, and provides a procedure for doing so. The Hoover petition raises the issue of whether “disposing of” property under these statutes can include demolition.

To interpret the language of these statutes, it’s useful to know their history. Originally, the Petition Statute was the exclusive way for school districts to sell, lease, or dispose of property. (See this case at page 581 and this case at page 260.) This proved cumbersome, so the legislature passed the Board Statute, enabling school boards to dispose of school property without an election. An accompanying statute provided that the board’s power was “independent of” and “additional to” the voters’ power under the Petition Statute.

The co-existence of these two statutes inevitably raised questions. In 1979, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office stated in a formal opinion that the Petition Statute grants “a much broader and more flexible power which resides in the electors of the school district than that held by the board of directors. The policy behind the distinction is the fundamental democratic principle that the electors are entitled to hold more power,” and that the board’s power under the Board Statute was “much more restricted.” As a result, the opinion concluded that when the district sold a schoolhouse under the Board Statute, it faced restrictions on the use of the proceeds that it would not face under the Petition Statute.

The Decorah case

In 2007, another issue arose about the relationship between the two statutes. What if a school board voted to demolish a building, and then the voters filed a petition to lease that same building? The court in that case held that the voter petition was valid and that the election had to go forward, even though the school board had already voted to demolish the building.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

School board agenda for June 27

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

We’ll discuss issues raised by the petition to put the demolition of Hoover Elementary onto the school board election ballot. (See this post.)

We’ll hear a report about the district’s community education program.

We’ll hear recommendations from the task force to develop a plan to support families affected by immigration enforcement.

We’ll hear on update on voluntary transfers. (Previous posts on voluntary transfers are here.)

We’ll hear an update on the district’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Plan. (Info here.)

We’ll hear an update on the renovation of the Shimek playground. (Info here.) Our work session on this topic last month was inconclusive, but there was majority support for looking for ways to make the new playground as accessible and inclusive as possible. (See minutes here.)

All that and more! The full agenda is here. Please chime in with a comment about anything that catches your attention.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Let the public vote on whether to tear down Hoover Elementary

The Save Hoover group is trying to get the issue of the demolition of Hoover Elementary School put on the ballot. The Press-Citizen has a good article about it. The district’s current plan, of course, is to tear down the building after the 2018-19 school year. The group hopes to place the issue on the September 12 school board election ballot and persuade people to vote No on it. The Q&A on the Save Hoover website gives a more detailed explanation of the petition effort.

I support the group’s efforts to get a public vote on the demolition of Hoover. There is a long list of reasons why the district’s plans for Hoover are bad policy. But the biggest problem for me has always been that the decision lacked the public support that such a major decision ought to have. I hope people will vote No on the issue, but if the voters do vote to tear the school down, I’ll be the first to say that the campaign to save Hoover is over and that people should move on. Without a public vote, though, the Hoover decision will always feel like it has been imposed by a small group without the support of the broader district community.

Disposing of a multi-million-dollar piece of property is a big deal, which is why there’s a state statute allowing people to petition for a public vote on it. The signature requirement is pretty high, though—roughly fifty percent higher than the requirement that applies to the district’s bond proposal. If you’d like to help get the question on the ballot, please print out the petition, fill out the information, and mail it in to:
Save Hoover Committee
P.O. Box 1653
Iowa City, IA 52240-1653
(There is no way to sign electronically.) The deadline for the group to submit signatures is June 29, so the sooner you mail it in, the better. Every little bit helps.

School board agenda for Tuesday, June 13

I’m late posting this week because I was on the road. Some of the topics on the board’s agenda tonight:

We’ll meet in an exempt (non-public) session to discuss the renewal and extension of the superintendent’s contract, as well as any possible changes in the contract language. This meeting is one step in the annual cycle of reviewing the superintendent’s contract. (More information on that process here.)

At our board meeting, we’ll discuss the report of the task force considering the district’s use of seclusion enclosures. (See posts here and here.) Two weeks ago, the state Department of Education issued a decision on a complaint about the district’s use of those enclosures; the task force apparently completed its report before that decision was issued.  News coverage of the state’s decision is here. Additional information on the use of seclusion enclosures is here.

We’ll also vote on whether to reapprove (and possibly amend) some of the district’s policies, including policies on good conduct, corporal punishment, student records access, the responsibilities of the superintendent, and on community comment at board meetings. This review is part of a scheduled cycle of policy reviews.

At our work session, we’ll discuss setting the district’s legislative priorities for next year.

We’ll also review a report from the administration’s transportation committee about busing in the district. The committee makes recommendations that include (1) increasing “attendance support” transportation at the elementary level, and (2) adding morning and evening activities busing at Northwest and North Central junior highs. One controversial point is the lack of any activities busing recommendation at the high school level for students in the Kirkwood neighborhood, who are now assigned to Liberty High, which cannot be reached from that neighborhood by public transportation. Related information here.

We’ll discuss the possibility of supporting a Future Farmers of America chapter in the district.

As usual, our work session also includes agenda items for the district’s bond proposal and facilities master plan.

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