Thursday, August 31, 2017

Radical ideas

Bond proponents are working hard to convince people that the district would never close a school right after investing a lot of money into it. That’s a bit of an uphill battle, given that the school board chose to invest almost $1 million on air conditioning and upgrades at Hoover after it decided to close the school. More importantly, we all know general fund money is tight. If we end up with significantly more capacity than we have students, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect more closure arguments: “Why pay to run twenty-one schools when all the kids will fit into eighteen or nineteen or twenty?” Ask any district where enrollment has fallen well below capacity. It’s especially reasonable to expect those arguments when some of our own administrators have been making them for years.

On the latter point, an interesting exchange occurred as the board started discussing possible revisions to the facilities plan last October. Board member Lori Roetlin asked whether it would make sense to build a pre-school center on available land in North Liberty, which would enable the district to expand preschool enrollment while also freeing up space currently being used for preschool in nearby elementary schools.
Director Roetlin: I just want to throw that out there, that there would be some efficiencies in doing that.

Facilities director Van Hemert: Yeah. Can I share my radical idea?

Superintendent Murley: No.


Murley: Take care of that right now. It’s nine o’clock, quarter to nine. Yeah, that actually—there’s a lot of efficiencies to running a pre-K building, and we’ve actually talked about, there are advantages to considering different places in the district, just because of the transition issues that people have. If you work downtown, you’re not going to want to drive to North Liberty, so we might need a pre-K center up there, a pre-K center down here, and we’ve got some existing facilities that could serve that capacity if we were to move out, and do some changes to the plan and add new facilities in other places in order to take advantage of the some of the space we have right now.

. . .

So I think that’s the conversation we need to have between now and December, because one of the things—and Craig said this when we started out—the difference between the work that we’re doing right now, and the work that we’re proposing doing in the future, is we’ve got the ability now to take a look at what we’re doing and say, Ah, we’d like to change it. And we can do that. Once we pass the bond, we can’t do that. Now we’re locked into doing the things that we said we were going to do.

(Full recording here.)

The superintendent made it very clear that he was talking about decisions the board would make before settling on bond ballot language, and the board did not end up including any projects in the plan that would repurpose elementary buildings into preschool buildings. But it’s also true that the board ended up adopting very broad ballot language, and the district has changed its tune on whether we’re “locked into” a particular plan. I know of nothing that would prevent the district, after bond passage, from repurposing an elementary school into a preschool center or a new home for the programs at TREC, and potentially altering the listed projects accordingly, if a future board was so inclined.

We’ve seen over time (and even over the past few board meetings) that our facilities director has a very big say in the district’s plans for its buildings. For that reason, it would have been nice to hear his ideas about the right way to find space for pre-school. If he thinks it should happen, voters could reasonably conclude that there’s a good chance it will happen.

In any event, it’s natural to wonder, from the conversations the district has had for years, whether the future will bring more proposals to close or re-purpose existing elementary schools (especially if we do end up with hundreds more seats than we have students). And maybe people will even be persuaded that it’s a good idea! But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s somehow precluded by passage of the bond.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"That’s a bit of an uphill battle, given that the school board chose to invest almost $1 million on air conditioning and upgrades at Hoover after it decided to close the school."

Chris, you have to know that the air conditioning upgrade to Hoover was made with the understanding that it would be able to re-used for another school, making this argument kind of misleading at best.