Thursday, August 31, 2017

September surprise?

I can’t help wondering whether there will be a “September surprise” as the school election approaches on September 12. Two years ago, just five days before the board election, a glossy “City High Preview” appeared on the district’s website, apparently calculated to head off the growing momentum of candidates who questioned the Hoover closure. It came off mostly as a clumsy attempt by the bureaucracy to use public resources to influence the election. But you don’t expect the institution to just sit on its hands, do you?

I was reminded of that incident this week by candidate Janet Godwin’s remarks when asked about keeping neighborhood schools open (full context here):
The thing is that if we are able to expand City High, we’ll be bringing back career tech education to City High. We will be bringing forward automotive, engineering, architectural work, other kinds of construction, engineering, etc. Those sorts of programmings are going to be coming back to City High, and the principal at City High, working with the administration, is already outlining those plans.
Reader: There is nothing in the bond proposal, and nothing anywhere in the facilities master plan (FMP), about new career and tech facilities at City High. It’s not even in the September Surprise 2015 City High Preview! During the many board meetings and work sessions leading up to the bond proposal, not a word was spoken about such a plan, though board member Phil Hemingway kept trying to raise the topic of career and tech. The district has made it very clear that it cannot even publicly identify what the Hoover land will be used for. Moreover, any plan to change the City High project to add automotive, engineering, architectural, and construction facilities would almost certainly affect both the project’s price tag and its effect on the building’s capacity rating—which means (in theory, at least!) it couldn’t happen just on the administration’s say-so without formal board action.

It’s bad enough when bond proponents act like the facilities master plan is incorporated into the bond ballot language. (It’s not.) It’s even worse when they start discussing “plans” that aren’t even in the FMP. Still, I suppose it’s mildly encouraging that this year’s unsupported assertions focus more on career and tech than on parking and baseball.

UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. Right on cue, prominent bond supporter Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek asserts that she has a map showing where career and tech and athletic facilities will go on the City High site.

UPDATE #2: I was naturally curious about this, so I emailed the superintendent:
Hi, Steve. I notice that Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek says she has a map showing where career and tech and athletics facilities will go on the City High/Hoover property. She seemed to say that it was a district document. Is there such a document? If so, how do I square that with the response you gave me in May saying that the district would not be able to answer that question until after the first series of bonds is issued?

Thanks for any information,

Chris Liebig
His reply:
Good Evening Chris

I am unaware of any map with any such designations.



amy said...

I'm actually starting to get really concerned that they're just going to drive the district into a wall, decide the wreck is stupid and it's the wreck's own fault for being a wreckable POS, and walk away from the mess to go live in some new subdivision just outside district limits.

Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek said...


Someone told me you mentioned me on your blog so I thought I should read it. The map you refer to was provided to the public at all of the City feeder schools' ice cream socials and the South East back to school night. Next to the map, there was a list explaining how City High facilities and programming will benefit from acquiring the Hoover land. Every school has the map and the list displayed in their entry way. The administration disseminated the information, not any campaign or individual.

Please don't make this about the election. Many parents, including me, have spent years meeting with the administrations of Hoover, City High, and the district to discuss this important matter -- not to win a campaign but to make sure Hoover's closure was the best option for my kids. Of course, I wanted this information as soon as the decision to close Hoover was made. I cannot explain why it has been so difficult to extract this information from the administration but that's not really the point, is it?

The point is, City High will have improved facilities and programming as a result of the Hoover land acquisition. While I have cherished my kids' experience at Hoover, I know they will be fine at any of the four neighboring elementary schools. The east side needs a strong high school. I hope others choose - as I have - to put your conspiracy theories aside and focus on what is best for our students and our community.

To that end, I do not plan on revisiting this blog. In the future, please contact me directly before implicating me in one of your conspiracy theories.


Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek

Anonymous said...

Pricipal Bacon has been discussing bringing back Industrial Technology spaces in the cafeteria since at least February according to this article http://daily-iowan.com/2017/02/08/school-board-approves-school-bond-for-facilities/. He also said it in June in this article http://www.press-citizen.com/story/opinion/contributors/guest-editorials/2017/06/08/principals-perspective-districts-facilities-master-plan/379177001/

Anonymous said...

Mary Kate,
Any truth to the rumor that "Old Hoover" was put on the chopping block because people like you want CHS to have a baseball field and space was needed?

Anonymous said...

I'm not Mary Kate but I will respond as a City High Alum that played baseball at City High when the field was still at City. I am fine with the baseball field being at Mercer Park. It is not where I would like for it to be but it doesn't need to be brought back now as space is too tight. With that being said I hope they don't move other programs offsite either, the more you move away from the campus the more you are creating equity issues for kids in regards to being able to participate in those events or not. Also the City of Iowa City has their own budget issues so maintaining more facilities, even at a shared cost with the district, would be an increase to their budget, the same budget that could be used to work on making the playgrounds around the city more accessible.

Anonymous said...

Whether there is a conspiracy or not, the perception is that all of this is very shady. The way things are presented to the public and handled by administration, board majority and other community supporters appears very suspicious. Maybe everything is kosher, but to the public eye something secret is going on behind the scenes that we are not allowed to know (until after the bond passes of course). Most everything is controversial or scandalous, which seems very dysfunctional for a school district. Very large sums of money are at stake here. The administration chooses to keep things secret and then present at the very last moment when they are "urgent". These actors mentioned above choose to operate in this manner. If I were one of these people mentioned above I would not want my name associated with any of this. Vonnegut said it best in Mother Night and I think it is fitting here..."We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." To the administration, board majority and financial backers - I hope it is worth it $$$.

Anonymous said...

If there is a map that administration is distributing then why does Steve say that there is not? Both can not be correct. Where is this map that was distributed and displayed - is there a link to it? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I know which side of this I am on.
Firmly #ConspiracyTheories for me and all the voting adults in our house.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is that almost everyone I know is unhappy with this administration and want Murley gone. Maybe I just associate with low-life, bottom-rung people, this is a real possibility to consider. The few people that I know that are ecstatic about administration and the bond are those that will gain financially from it.

Anonymous said...

If we are one district, the choice to add even more to City High affects every other school and the bond budget. This information should be on the district website and not just given to SEJH and City parents.

City High already doesn't need the second 150 seat addition per November 2016 enrollment projections, so why add even more capacity in the form of career/vo-tech there?

Why does City need 5 more acres for cafeteria and 150 more unneeded seats?

My household, my friends, my neighbors are all going with conspiracy theory too because that is what is going on here.

mariaconz said...

Without transparency, without clear communication to the entire taxpaying community, there can't be the kind of trust that would lead to the whole-hearted support for the largest school bond the state has ever seen. We still aren't told why Hoover is to be repurposed for City High? Some people know or think they know and most don't know and can only guess? The school district won't stay within budget or listen to the board on projects underway now (Penn and Lincoln)? I'm voting no on the $191.5 million school bond in protest. I want small, specific, ACCOUNTABLE bonds since I don't trust Supt. Murley or physical plant director Duane Van Hemert.

Anonymous said...

Look, if the administration wants to operate by suppressing information (for example not telling us what they need old Hoover land for), or waiting until the last minute to present new plans, the only thing we can do is speculate on what the plans may be. So either they have secret plans that they don't want us to know or they are flying by the seat of their pants which I would find both incompetent and not a good reason to give $200M. We will naturally assume the worst if they refuse to tell us this information. Maybe just tell the truth and we will accept it, maybe we won't accept it. But the reason we assume a conspiracy is based on history and the way things are progressing. I mean, if you are planning to turn Lincoln into a pre-K school, tell us that and maybe we are okay with it. If you are planning to add a vocational school addition to the old Hoover site, maybe that is okay, we have been asking for it. But we assume you are making a parking lot because you won't tell us.

Anonymous said...

I believe this is the list and map that is on the district website.


I've done a lot of my own research on which way to vote using the information I have found on the district website (the historical documents were really helpful to me), your blog, in person interactions and asking my own questions.

With that being said I tend to follow the thinking described here:

“Lacking a sense of control leads to mental sense-making in the form of illusory pattern perception, that is, connecting dots that is not necessarily connected in reality (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008). These sense-making activities are central in belief in conspiracy theories, which are designed to increase understanding of a distressing situation.”

I don't believe in conspiracy theories so I'm voting YES.

amy said...

"I cannot explain why it has been so difficult to extract this information from the administration but that's not really the point, is it?"

Mary Kate, that is precisely the point. If the board itself cannot trust admin to be straightforward and transparent, then we have no oversight, and $200M in loans with no oversight is no position for a school district to be in.

amy said...

Wait, she's a *lawyer* and she's saying this? Sure, who cares about oversight, rules, procedures. It's the end that matters!

[scratches Hayek off list of law firms to use]

amy said...

From the document Steve doesn't want to talk about (though, strictly speaking, it's true, the map on that doc doesn't include a map showing the new facilities:

"Some of the projects were identified in the original BLDD study; others as part of the Facility Master Plan Update passed by the Board on 4-4-15; in addition others have been identified as needs since that time and will be considered once a funding source is

Well now. Anybody want to help him secure that funding source on Sept 12?

Anonymous said...

Hoover will be baseball fields. The industrial tech programming is to justify the unneeded capacity addition, but this type programming is already offered at the Kirkwood Regional Center that the district pays for students to attend. https://www.kirkwood.edu/site/index.php?p=39153

amy said...

Of course, the fact that they kept cutting Phil out suggests that the tech plans are already set and that they're planning to sweep a lot of funds in particular directions. You can also see why Honest Jeff wasn't anxious for oversight back in '15. I expect David caught wind of this plan and maybe some others, and that's what prompted his suggestion for oversight. I'm also not surprised now that he's left.

Chris, legal direction would be handy here. We apparently have a rogue admin that doesn't view itself as answerable to the board or, behind the board, the people. It's time for Murley to go, but also time for notice that the "favors" party is shutting down.

Anonymous said...

We need to get rid of all of these crooks trying to profit from this bond. It is disgusting that they are disguising themselves as pro-education. Just look at all of the major donors for the pro-bond organization and you will see who is profiting most by pushing this. Time to clean house and do what is right for our kids and out all of those who are trying to swindle us into buying this garbage. We need to address the real needs in this district. The $200 million expensive fluff piece that has something for all does not. Vote NO to this bond and let's get a new bond that meets our current needs!

Anonymous said...

Chris, I don't understand your statement "It’s bad enough when bond proponents act like the facilities master plan is incorporated into the bond ballot language. (It’s not.)." The bond language states: "...and improving the school buildings remaining in the District’s Facilities Master Plan, as follows..." How is that not incorporating the FMP into the bond ballot language?

amy said...

Because all it does is name the schools where they can do projects. It doesn't say specifically what "improving" means, so that's left to the discretion of the...well, Steve, mostly.

In other words, it incorporates the FMP and a giant universe of projects not named in the FMP, without requiring Murley to carry out the plans that *are* named in the FMP.

Anonymous said...

Interesting...So Mary Kate said there was a map published by the district and Steve Murley said there wasn't such a thing. They can't be both telling the truth, can they?

amy said...

What you have to keep in mind here, Anon 12:58, is that Steve's a hairsplitter when it comes to these arguments. Say they come up with some spiffy new idea for renovations at Horn. They've never been discussed before. Nobody but admin and contractors likes them. There are renovations that people actually want. But Steve & co decide they're going to do the new thing and not the old thing.

Can the community take action? No. Because Steve will literally have abided by the referendum. Horn is "a school building remaining in the District's FMP". The renovations are renovations. Nothing in the language compels him to carry out the ones that were already discussed, or prevents him from substituting new ones so long as they fit a broad category.

Ordinarily, you might be able to say, "Well, everyone knows what this referendum means, it means the FMP, and the district's just going to do that and we're good." That's when you have a supe you can trust. Steve, however, has just spent several years showing us that we can't expect him to be straightforward, to follow Board direction, to be open with parents about what's going on, to respect and work with rather than manage public opinion. I've actually watched him throw one of his principals right under the bus. So. It really does in the end come down to troubling to build the relationships by doing the right thing over and over. For this guy, and the board nominally overseeing him, you actually need to tie down the language pretty carefully.

Anonymous said...

Well, Amy, that's not entirely true. State law mandates board approval for any project over 100k I believe. The board also had set other requirements for infrastructure approvals even more specific. So bluntly, no, Steve does not have autonomy when it comes to how to spend the bond money. Given we are electing a new board as well the argument really amounts to nothing unless you don't trust the board ....whose makeup we have yet to know.

Anonymous said...

@11:02. No surprise but the district doesn't commit to anything in the link you included.

amy said...

And...how difficult do you think it'll be to break large jobs into small ones? Not that I think that'd be necessary; take a look at how Steve's been carlotting FMP changes so far. He turns up, says we need a fast answer and it'll be awesome and there isn't any real alternative, and more often than not the board rolls over. That's a feature of a permanent admin v. elected officials anywhere*, which means that in the end the one you really have to be able to trust is your supe. Otherwise whoever's in will just be the new bunch to manage and circumvent.

In any case, when the board says, "But is this kosher by the bond referendum?" the answer will be "Yes."

*there was an entire series about this on BBC that had all of UK govt riveted during the 80s because it was (and remains) true.

heather said...

As I have listened to a full weeks worth of stump speeches by school board candidates, one tiny detail that was mentioned repeatedly, has me fully alarmed about the bond.

It is board candidates pointing to the new Liberty High as an example of a school built right, including the awesome suite of Special Education rooms, that one candidate said (approximately)" When I saw the special education rooms at Liberty, I was so excited! They are so beautiful and exactly what are district needs. I didn't know that those rooms would be there, and it was a wonderful surprise. And that why I fully support the Bond."

Uh.... I have MAJOR problems with this candidates position, and all others who agreed with it.

To tell our community that after years and years of special education state and federal violations, and to have the school board president be unwilling/unable to tell me how even one penny of this bond is going towards special education facilities, then to build this at Liberty high with NO school board or community awareness, is another perfect example on why this administration cannot be trusted with our money.

The fact that sometime along the construction timeline, a secret special education suite was added to the project, without board consent or community input, is unconscionable. There was absolutely nothing transparent about this, and I for one, am outraged that such an important feature for our most fragile student population was constructed without our knowledge. It should have been discussed, planned and approved with full public support. Anything less is deceitful.

I will not willingly give my money and support to people who think so little of our special education community. We deserve better.

Chris said...

Thanks, everyone. My point here is that the document can’t represent the district’s “plan” if it has never been adopted by any person or body with the authority to adopt it. Maybe the district will someday tell us what will go on the Hoover property and why City needs those five acres; so far, it hasn’t. It is easy to hold out possibilities in the week before an election in order to assuage voter concerns, but until the district itself acts—which it could only do after vetting those possibilities for cost and receiving input from all parts of the district—they are just conjectures and should not be held out as district plans and certainly not as what you’ll get if the bond passes.

Moreover, the document is conspicuously vague about funding. A fair amount of what it describes is not identified or mentioned in the district’s literature on what the bond will pay for at City. It’s hard not to conclude that the document exists for the purpose of telling (some) people what they want to hear right before an election, regardless of whether it has a basis in fact.

But “please don’t make this about the election”—lol.

Chris said...

As for whether the facilities master plan is incorporated into the bond language, see this post and the ones it links to.

Anonymous said...

Heather, the other two high schools have special ed rooms. The district can renovate them using existing money instead of spending on consultants or paying outsiders what ICCSD's facilities employees can do and they could start now. The district doesn't have to wait for a bond. The Liberty rooms and timing of them look like they were done in response to complaints that there was nothing in the bond for special ed.

Anonymous said...

Expect administration to drop some major information either the day before or the day of the bond vote to try to persuade voters to pass the bond. It is sad, but that is how they operate. It is all political to them and not about what is best for the children or what the voters actually want, but about winning and getting what they want for themselves.