Thursday, August 31, 2017

Friends of Horace Mann

Think about the position the Horace Mann Elementary community is in. They know how important that school is to the north side neighborhood. They want upgrades and renovations to the building—partly because the building needs it, and partly because they fear that without them, the district may close the school. The district itself has instilled that fear in them.

I think it’s a safe bet that the many bond supporters among the Mann community would also have voted “yes” on a smaller bond proposal, and may even have preferred one, as long as it included Mann (which it almost certainly would have). Instead, though, the school board majority chose to tie the Mann project to $180 million worth of other projects, in a plan that extends out seven years, closes an elementary school, includes capacity expansions that aren’t based on any enrollment projections, and yet still manages to make it likely that some parts of the district (e.g., at Alexander and in the North Corridor) will be stuck with temporary classrooms even after all the money is spent. With friends like that, Mann doesn’t need enemies.

But that’s the option that came out of the sausage grinder, and many Mann families would rather have a huge bond that includes Mann than wait for a better proposal next year. One consequence is that many Mann advocates, who admirably want to preserve and renovate an older elementary school in a central core neighborhood of Iowa City, have decided that it’s in their best interest to ally with people who want to close and tear down an older elementary school in a central core neighborhood of Iowa City.

I don’t support this bond proposal, but if many Mann families do, I can at least understand the position they feel they’re in. I wish our district hadn’t put them in that position.

As I wrote about more fully here, I was one of three board members who voted last week to allow three more weeks for community input on the schematic design for the Mann proposal before approving it. We’ve since received about two dozen emails from people on the proposal (which was the whole point of waiting). These emails have been almost uniformly in favor of moving forward with the district’s design proposal.

In the emails, some people specifically argue that the district’s proposal is better than any alternatives. Many of the emails, though, simply say that they want the project to keep moving forward. Some candidly admit that they wish the design proposal were different, but that they prefer keeping the project on track to having meaningful input into the design. Others have apparently been led to believe (possibly by prominent bond supporters) that the three board members voted down the entire Mann project, rather than simply to allow three more weeks for feedback.

I want to see the Mann project happen—I think it’s one of the best projects in the plan—but I know that a lot of people in the Mann community no longer see people like me as allies. The district has needlessly pitted Mann families against many people who support the project but not the larger bond proposal.

The institution’s message to Mann families on the design proposal is the same as its message to them on the bond plan, and the same as its message district-wide: Our job is to decide; your job is to vote “yes” on whatever we decide.


Anonymous said...

Chris, what will the real capacity of Horace Mann be under the new design. Would it be big enough to accommodate either Lincoln or Shimek students after the boundaries change so that one of those schools could be closed as a K-6 school? How many rooms that are classroom sized will Horace Mann have?

Those music and art rooms the district keeps promising--could they be turned into classrooms? Is the district using these to increase capacity without telling us? Where is music and art in these elementary schools being held now? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am 100% certain these art and music rooms are being used as a ruse to increase capacity in order to eventually close schools. The district has stated that every new art and music room addition will allow the old art and music rooms to be used as regular classrooms. Capacity increase of 50 seats everywhere this is done; and most of it is being done where it is not needed at all!

These art and music rooms are a major source of the excess capacity being built - virtually ALL of it in Iowa City where closing schools has repeatedly been raised.

I would not be surprised at all if a renovated elementary school (or two or three) gets repurposed into something else like a preschool center. Tate gets moved into another. TREC programs relocated into another.