Saturday, March 17, 2012

Should there be a new elementary school on Iowa City’s east side?

I have mostly avoided writing about our district’s struggles over redistricting and over how to allocate scarce resources among competing needs. I’m more concerned about how the kids are being treated within the schools, and with what they’re learning, than I am with where the boundary lines are drawn. Moreover, issues about boundaries and resource allocation involve so many tradeoffs that there are never any perfect answers, and every proposal inevitably makes some people unhappy.

This week, parents in our district started a petition to ask the school board and district administrators “to begin the planning and funding of an additional elementary school on the far east side of the District, as well as other critical infrastructure improvements in facilities and technology around the District.” The petition argues that dealing with the immediate needs of east side schools, particularly elementary schools, should take priority over planning for a several-years-down-the-road third comprehensive high school in the North Liberty and Coralville area.

I don’t have a strong opinion about the petition, and don’t feel as informed as I would like to be. My initial feelings toward it are mixed. It seems plainly to have been triggered by the fact that many parents are unhappy about the district’s recent proposed boundary changes, some of which have attempted to even out socioeconomic disparities among schools by shifting higher-income neighborhoods into lower-income attendance areas. So it comes off looking like the petitioners are saying, “We don’t want to go that school, so build us a new school.” Some of the petition’s points may be good ones, but no one was circulating this petition until the district proposed the boundary changes.

That said, I’m skeptical about the wisdom of building a third comprehensive high school. And it wouldn’t take much to convince me that the east side facilities, which are generally older, could use some additional resources. The petition’s case for building a new elementary school, though, is less convincing. The petition seems to acknowledge that the existing capacity at Twain and Hills is currently enough to offset the crowding at the other east side schools, so why doesn’t redrawing the boundaries make more sense than building a new school (which would, of course, require all kinds of boundary changes)? Is there any real evidence that the east side student population is imminently going to grow beyond the capacity of the existing schools? (The petition states that “hundreds of additional residential lots are slated for near-term development,” but how realistic are those projections in today’s economy?) If so, what are the other possible ways to address that problem, short of building a new school? What are the other possible uses of the money that would go toward building a school?

So, readers, what are your thoughts? Educate me!
.

55 comments:

Chris said...

By the way, is there an easy way to find the current enrollment numbers for each elementary school? I've been searching for that information on the district's website, but having no luck (though I found the numbers for four schools here, and the capacity figures for all the schools here).

Karen W said...

Chris--the current year enrollment figures are in the 2011-2012 Enrollment Report. You have to go to the "Community" drop down menu and choose Annual Report to find it. I think you are probably looking for the information on page 11, but there is also other information potentially of interest (SINA transfers, for example).

http://www.edline.net/files/_ZKJLt_/ea8cd38b5564309f3745a49013852ec4/Enrollment_Report_2011_12_Revised_Spec_Ed.pdf

Chris said...

Julie VanDyke just tried (unsuccessfully -- curse you, Blogger!) to post the following comment:

Well Chris, I have a lot to say about all of this but it's my wedding anniversary and I'm trying to stay off the computer so...in the short term...

You said, “So it comes off looking like the petitioners are saying, “We don’t want to go that school, so build us a new school.” While some of the parents at the City High redistricting forum did come off a bit like what you describe, there is actually a lot more to it than that. I perceive the petition writers not actually meaning that at all.

Some of the facts are:

-There are 200+ seats available at City High right now and the district enrollment figures have not reached the trigger points the previous incarnation of the board set to begin a 4th high school. Because of those two points, I don’t see any reason to try to push the high school issue back to the top of the issues to address list.

-The sudden refocus of the northwestern part of the district on the "need" for a 4th high school is a red herring. They realize that the redistricting plan on the table for discussion right now http://www.edline.net/files/_aNKt6_/a831b10241e2a9ca3745a49013852ec4/March8ForumNewsCorrected.pdf and http://www.edline.net/files/_aFDvJ_/93773b0ef8833f4f3745a49013852ec4/ICCSD_Building_Capacity_2011.pdf (which ONLY address elementary and jr. high enrollments) that moves Wickham from overcrowded North Central Jr. High back to Northwest Jr. High (which, like City High, has a wealth of open seats) is the district's first move in turning Wickham into an east side, City High feeder. They will have to fight that with everything they have to keep from being moved out of West High because they are the sole remaining elementary closest to City High that ISN'T going there. Northwest will then likely become a jr high that feeds to both high schools. There was district precedent for this at Central Jr. High which used to be next to Mercy Hospital in Iowa City and it worked just fine.

-If you look at enrollment numbers for the entire district, http://www.edline.net/files/_aFDvJ_/93773b0ef8833f4f3745a49013852ec4/ICCSD_Building_Capacity_2011.pdf and http://www.edline.net/files/_ZKJLt_/ea8cd38b5564309f3745a49013852ec4/Enrollment_Report_2011_12_Revised_Spec_Ed.pdf the section that has and is rapidly more so running out of seating is the east side elementary level. It's not like there is room over on the west side ones to shift any of them too and, even if there was, the district wouldn't send them there because those schools already feed into West High. They have to build another elementary because even with the shift the district is proposing southward throughout the east side enrollment areas to ease overcrowding, there still won't be any seats left for that demographic strata well before open seats run out at overall jr. high levels on the west side and high school level with the open seats at City and the new Kirkwood/ICCSD learning center project that is currently in the works.

The district's current website navigation s*&#s, but all of this information is actually there...I have a growing library of documents that are no longer available from their old site that I am happy to share as well. It would be SO nice if the district provided this information instead of a private citizen having to keep a personal library of it all and provide the librarian services as well...but, I guess somebody's got to do it.

Best wishes,

Julie

Chris said...

Julie also asked that I post her email address (firehorse66@netins.net) in case anyone wanted to contact her on this issue.

Chris said...

Karen -- Thanks! Here's the clickable link.

Julie VanDyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

So blogger dumps a comment when you're using Firefox, forget to "choose and identity" first before you accidentally hit enter instead of clicking "publish
your comment"...

Anonymous said...

Julie -- Thanks, and happy anniversary. I will seriously feel guilty if I entice/provoke you to post more comments today.

The Patch article mentions that Jason Lewis, the head of the Twain PTO, sees the redistricting "as good step toward improving Twain's 71 percent free-and-reduced lunch rate." I'd be interested to hear the views of the Twain parents on a new elementary school and on how it might affect Twain.

I also wonder whether the school board would be tempted to use the idea of building a new east side elementary school as an opportunity to close some of the older, more central schools and create a larger elementary school, farther out, to take their place -- thus actually moving away from the neighborhood-school model that the petition seems to support. That's not an argument against the petition, which isn't advocating that idea, and in any event every idea is worth discussing. But it's something to think about.

It sounds like there is existing capacity in the high schools now to accommodate North Liberty and Coralville families, and there is existing capacity in the east side elementary schools now to accommodate east side families. So the arguments for building a new high school, and for building a new elementary school, are both based on projections about future growth. Is there evidence that the east side situation is more urgent? Or is this really an argument over whether a third comprehensive high school is a good idea at all, regardless of capacity concerns?

Chris said...

Julie -- Thanks, maybe that advice will help people maneuver Blogger's increasingly bug-filled comment form.

By the way, that last "Anonymous" comment was from me (Chris). I have no idea why it made me Anonymous.

What next, Blogger??

Julie VanDyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Can't keep up but the numbers are there in the enrollment report = even with the shifting southward there are essentially no seats left in the elementary schools on the east side now...that is why Murley deflected Tuyet's attempt to close Hills last summer. The best thing they could do would be to build the east side elementary since that is where the seats are needed now AND leave Twain and Hills filled too. They don't have the seats to lose. One thing that I'm hearing, if I'm understanding correctly is this: they might close Hoover, because of its proximity to City High, and then move towards expanding City to absorb Hoover land to grow to match the size of West.

Chris said...

The district website is truly infuriating. When I click on the links in the comments above, it just takes me to a front page, where it asks for a screen name and a password. But when I get to the site via Google, I can navigate it without any screen name or password, but I can't easily find the things I'm looking for. Did the district really choose a system that would be impossible to link to?

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Get this! Under Plugge/Bobek/Schultz, they cut the positions of district Safety Inspector and Webmaster...since then we have had multiple asbestos exposures, a lead exposure, countless other environmental issues, and now a website that is pretty much useless. The search function on the new one IS useless. It would be a good time to push the district to fill both positions in their best interest and ours....

Chris said...

Well, I'm stumped. Even when I use the search function to try to find the enrollment report, I can't click on the result without getting sent to entry page and being asked for my screen name and password (or to start an account, which would require an activation code that I don't have). Is there some reason I should need an account to access this obviously public document?

If anyone out there wants to email me the PDF of the 2011-12 enrollment report, I'll post it here.

Chris said...

When I deleted the last part of the IRL, it seems to work. Here it is.

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Nope...your link takes me to the page but then their page isn't working...and just sends me in another cycle...you know, I complain about this to them all time and Kim kindly gets each thing "fixed" but what they really need is at least a part time Webmaster...I'll email it to you now...

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

From: "Julie VanDyke"
To: "ICCSD Webmaster"
Received: 17 Mar, 12 4:18:42 PM

Good Afternoon ICCSD Webmaster,

I would suggest you get the 2011-12 enrollment report link working again as there are a whole bunch of people trying to use it and the link is suddenly, as of today, sending one in a circle that leads nowhere (and most frustratingly not to the report). I'm happy to keep emailing it out to people if I must but isn't it kind of absurd that a private citizen has to provide your documents to the public on your behalf since your own website consistently is unable to do so for one reason or another, not the least of which is the fact that nobody can find anything on it, the links lead you down paths you can't back page out of again and you have to start at the home page to wend your way back again, and the site frequently sends the search to an Edline sign in page requiring a password?

Instead of posting everything as a pdf that requires downloading each time it is clicked, perhaps you could consider posting a version that can be simply viewed, printed, or downloaded from your site?

Best wishes,
Julie

Chris said...

Some quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations from the 2011-12 enrollment report:

The east side elementaries are currently at 95% capacity overall (not counting capacity that is currently used for special ed purposes).

The remaining elementaries are at 90% capacity. (This is a rough figure, because the enrollment report uses Roosevelt but not Borlaug, while the capacity numbers I have use Borlaug and not Roosevelt.)

The district is projecting elementary enrollment to grow by 3.6% by 2015-16. Those projections are not broken down by individual school, and I don't know how to evaluate their accuracy. But if the east side elementary population grew by 3.6%, its elementary schools, taken together, still wouldn't be over capacity.

So yes, the east side appears to be a little closer to capacity, but I'm still not seeing the pressing need for a new elementary school.

Chris said...

Here are some PDFs that (I hope) you can now access just by clicking:

2011-12 Enrollment Report

2009-10 Free and Reduced Lunch figures

March 2012 Proposed Redistricting Information

Building Capacity information

Thanks, Julie, for the first two of those.

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Hi Chris,
It won’t bother me if you don’t agree with the entire petition or me on any given point. I respect your opinion highly. But it takes a while to build a school from thought to walk-in. If we wait until there is no elementary seating left, it will be too late. I will remind you of this when it happens as it most likely will ;-)
I would also look at the numbers in terms of actual seats since percentages, much like they are in the district's budget, become less meaningful...i.e., a 2.5 million mistake is only a tiny percentage of the budget (which is the justification the district used to say it wasn't really such a big deal) but 2.5 million IS a LOT of money. So if there are 200 seats open at City High...how many seats do you see left available at the elementary level on the east side and, since that's really getting down to a situation of a few seats open at this school and a few at that school, is what little availability left of the same benefit as a 200 seat pool availability at City High?
It still comes down to the fact that, between building a 4th high school or building another elementary or junior high, the next new building most justified by the numbers in the district is an elementary school on the east side. The current redistricting plan will buy a little time but not much. Remember, the classrooms were pretty full this year until they were able to move temporary teachers into place in the few remaining open rooms...those have now been filled so what will happen next year if we have another large (unlikely to be 400 this time) increase in attendance? Hills had to split into two kindergarten classes to accommodate this year’s increased enrollment and that’s pre-Lakeview return. Longfellow was totally out of control.
Best wishes,
Julie

Karen W said...

Some more quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations using the May 2011 Elementary Capacity report and the 2011-12 Enrollment report:

158 open seats in east side elementary schools with another 667 seats in special use classrooms (825 total)

498 open seats in west side elementary schools with another 276 seats in special use classrooms (774 total)

Chris said...

It sounds to me like the people on the far east side just really want a nearby elementary school, and the North Liberty and Coralville people just really want a nearby high school. I think I’d find their arguments more persuasive if they just put them in those terms, rather than trying to cast them as capacity arguments. Capacity issues might be solvable in other ways – for example, by building an addition onto an existing school (which has to be cheaper than building a new school), or by starting a centrally-located sixth-grade academy, or by relocating some special use functions, etc. If what people are really after is a closer-to-home school, I think they should just make the best case they can for why that’s important. I also think the debate needs to take into account the effect a new school would have on existing schools and on equity issues among the schools, and the possible alternative uses of the money.

Chris said...

It’s one thing to say that the district should be allocating more resources to the east side generally. Judging from the comments on the petition, that aspect of it is motivating a fair number of the signatures. But it’s not yet clear to me that a new elementary school would benefit any east siders other than those in its attendance area, and I wonder whether it might actually hurt some of the existing schools. Julie, aren’t you afraid that a new school would give the district an excuse to close Hills?

Dan Shaw said...

Hi Chris!

I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while now, and appreciate all the energy you pour into putting a spotlight on local school issues. As someone whose boisterous 5-yr-old daughter’s enthusiasm isn’t always well-received in the conformist-minded Kindergarten curriculum, it’s reassuring for me to hear your perspective on the values our schools are stressing.

I’m glad you decided to start a discussion on the proposed east side elementary on your blog……we need much more public dialogue on how the District manages capacity issues and long-range planning, and we need much more attention focused on the spotty financial/numbers reporting and all-but-impenetrable avenues for public access to District information. As you described, man, that new website sucks!

One of my regrets about the petition we started was the fact that we had to keep our capacity/enrollment analysis at a fairly high level, to make sure the rationale was digestable and didn’t cause people’s eyes to roll back into their heads. But I think I can fill in some of the gaps with more detail, and describe for you exactly why this is a capacity question, and not just a bunch of people wanting a shiny new elementary school down the block for convenience.

As you note, the east side elementaries (those that feed into City, including Hills and Lincoln now) overall were at 95% of capacity in October 2011, with 158 seats “available.” But trying to look at elementary capacity that way, in the aggregate, covering an area that’s 10 miles across from Shimek to Hills, is exceptionally misleading. You’re glossing over the fact that 97 of those 158 “open” seats are in Hills. Could we bus the 45 kids that Lemme is over capacity out to Hills each day? It’s not realistic to view these seats several miles south of town as any kind of relief valve for the schools overflowing in east IC.

Another 96 open seats are at Twain. It’s more reasonable to expect to send overflow kids to that school, but what does that buy us? Other than Twain, all of the elementary school on the eastern side of IC are over capacity: Lemme: 45 over, Wood: 17 over, Hoover: 7 over, Longfellow: 4 over, Lucas: 4 over, and Shimek: 1 over. (When we say we have a capacity issue in our east side elementary schools, it’s partly because 6 of them are literally *over capacity*.) So if we take these 78 overflow kids from their schools somehow and shift them to some of the 96 open desks at Twain, we’ve theoretically solved the problem through June 1, 2012. Now if those darn numbers would just stay the same….

First off, you can throw the District projections out the window. They put together 2011 projections in Spring 2011, and they underprojected East side elementary enrollment by 242 kids. Underprojected District-wide elementary enrollment by 345. If you’re relying on their projection numbers for east-side schools to tell us how many kids will be in these schools in 2012, 2013, 2014…..forget it. This year, five months prior to the start of the school year, they underprojected Hoover by 30, Lemme by 22, Longfellow by 51 (!), Lucas by 58 (!!), and Wood by 69.

It doesn’t require a crystal ball to see how many more kids are coming, just math. District enrollment at the elementary level in 2011 was 5.4% higher than they projected (345 kids). If you take that same percentage and apply it to correct their remaining projections (in the Enrollment Report you linked to), District-wide, for the next four years, in 2012 you will have 96 more elementary students than today, in 2013 you’ll have 243 more than today, in 2014 you’ll have 448 more than today, and in 2015 you’ll have 611 more elementary students than today. Three years from this Fall.

Like you said, they don’t break their projections down by school, but you can take the proportion of east side elementary population (3062 in 2011) relative to the whole District’s elementary population (6783 in 2011) and see that east side elementaries account for 45.1% of the elementary population.

(continued...)

Dan Shaw said...

(...cont.)

East and West rates of growth (again, shown in the Enrollment Report) have been pretty consistent overall, with a slight lead for west side (all those shiny new schools! : ), but let’s take 45% of the above District-wide growth numbers and approximate what east side elementary growth will be in the next three years, just to see how long those “open” seats will last:

2012: 43 more east-side students than today (seems low to me…we’ll see!)
2013: 110 more east-side students than today
2014: 203 more east-side students than today
2015: 276 more east-side students than today

That’s three years from September. AND that’s using the same low-ball projections that told us we would add 89 students to the District this year, when in fact we added 442. What if they’re low that much every year? What if we’re at the start of a population boom for Iowa City, when every other newspaper article is telling us how strong our economy is, how we have the lowest unemployment in the nation, how we weathered the housing crisis unscathed? What if suddenly Iowa City is a great place to live, with great schools, and everyone else wakes up, realizes it, and moves here? Those 96 seats at Twain aren’t going to last very long. And it takes how long to plan and build a new school?.....

We actually can predict how many new Kindergartners will join each year, with some regularity. As it turns out, when you look back at birth records in Johnson County 5 years prior to each year’s new Kindergarten crop, for the last 10 years Kindergarten enrollment has been 65% of the number of Johnson county births 5 years prior (+/- 1 percentage point). Not surprisingly, lately we’ve been adding much larger classes than we did in the mid-2000’s. For example, this year’s crop of 6th graders started as 898 Kindergartners in 2005, after being a “birth class” of 1382 in 2000. Once that relatively small class of 6th graders moves out of the elementaries to go to Junior High next year, they will be replaced in the schools by a Kindergarten class of 1072, a figure projected by taking 65% of the Johnson County birth class of 2007, which was 1650 kids. So your current incoming Kindergarten class is starting with 174 more kids than your outgoing 6th grade class…the smaller classes advance, and are replaced by larger incoming classes. The next four “birth classes” coming in are 1650, 1719, 1709, and 1792. Bigger classes in, smaller classes out. We need more space. Pronto.

I hope this has been informative, and not just tedious. I was reluctant to leave you and your readers with the impression that our recommendation for a new elementary school (and yes!—upgrades, additions, and enhancements to our wonderful, existing historic east-side schools) was hastily considered or simply the product of entitled parents wanting greater convenience for their drive to work. Not the case. I don’t even live on the far east side—I live within walking distance of Longfellow, and I walk my daughter to school every day. My kids wouldn’t even go to a new east side school…..but I hope that kids from the current Wood, Lemme, Lucas, and Windsor Ridge/eastern Court Street would, and they’d have a great neighborhood school to call their own.

No need to close down existing schools—we need all the space we can get. And no need to sacrifice one school or one area of town to the benefit of others. Ask the District and School Board about $98 million dollars in unallocated SILO and PPEL funds between now and 2017, and see if there’s enough facilities money to go around. Ask about $28 million sitting in the capitol expenditures fund as of Dec. 2011. There’s plenty of money to pay for our capacity needs in the coming years…..there just hasn’t been the foresight to plan for it. But I have faith in the new Board and Superintendent!

Dan Shaw

Dan Shaw said...

Karen, I'm not sure why you would include the "counts" (using 23 students per room) for the Special Use classrooms in an analysis of how much elementary enrollment capacity we have. Are you suggesting that east-side schools should eliminate the intended purposes of those classrooms and use them instead for general education classes?

It reads like you're implying there's more room in the east side schools than we're acknowledging, but those special use classrooms aren't included in planning or capacity analysis for a reason.....they're special!

Chris said...

Thanks, Dan – I was hoping you would chime in! It is really helpful to hear these arguments spelled out in more detail.

The point you make about Hills is a good one – it might be hard to redistrict in such as way as to take full advantage of the capacity there, since the school is pretty far from most of the district population. The district’s proposal does go a long way toward using that capacity, though, by sending the Lake Ridge families there – thus filling 176 of the 207 “seats.” The Lake Ridge families are about five or six miles from Hills, but they’re also about three miles from Twain, where they are now, and the commute to either (according to Google maps) is about eight minutes. There may be other arguments about why Lake Ridge shouldn’t be redistricted in that manner, but purely in terms of using capacity, it doesn’t seem crazy.

As far as projections, I’m not entirely convinced about some of the assumptions you’re using. The fact that the district under-projected in one year doesn’t mean that they will do so in the future, or to the same degree. Maybe it just means that predictions are hard, and maybe they’d be just as likely to over-project in some future year. Is there evidence that they have consistently under-projected over time, or that the model they are using is flawed in a way that would likely lead to undercounting?

Projecting kindergarten population by birth rates sounds sensible, but without a breakdown by individual school, it doesn’t seem very useful. I certainly wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that, because the east side is 45% of the district, it will see 45% of the growth. When you say the west side has had a “slight lead” in growth rates, what time period are you using? Just looking at the census, Iowa City grew by 9% from 2000 to 2010, while Coralville grew by 25%, and North Liberty grew by 149%. (The figures are from the entries for each town on Wikipedia.) Any prediction that the east side would grow at the same rate as the west side would have wildly over-projected east side growth during that period. Past isn’t necessarily prologue, but there would have to be some basis for allocating that county-wide population growth between east and west before we could draw any conclusions about its implications for the east side.

(continued)

Chris said...

(continued from previous comment)

Also, I’m not sure that population growth on the east side would lead necessarily to the conclusion that we should build a new elementary on the far east side. Again, there might be other ways to address the problem. I’m not savvy or informed enough to know what they are – but building an addition onto a school would probably be one of them. I’ve heard people toss around the idea that all sixth graders could go to a transitional “academy” for a year before heading to junior high – which might require a new building, but not necessarily on the far east side. I don’t know whether those solutions are better than building a new school, but it seems like some brainstorming about other possible solutions should occur before we reach any conclusions.

Again, I think I’m as likely to be persuaded by an argument that the far east side ought to have a nearby school as I am by these capacity and growth-projection arguments – I don’t at all disparage the former type of argument as “just a bunch of people wanting a shiny new elementary school down the block for convenience.” As you may already know from some of previous posts, I wish people would make arguments based on value judgments more explicitly, rather than try to cast every desire in terms of empirical-looking numbers. When I hear the arguments for a third comprehensive high school, I feel the same way: I’m not very convinced by the arguments based on capacity or commuting measurements, but I can totally sympathize with the people in Coralville and North Liberty wanting their kids to go to school closer to home.

I do think, though, that in both cases, we ought to consider the effects that building a new school would have on the rest of the district. In particular, I’d be concerned that a new elementary school on the far east side (or a third comprehensive high school) would just aggravate the kind of socioeconomic disparities between schools that the district is already wrestling with. That concern is always going to be in tension with the idea of neighborhood schools, and I think there are a lot of good reasons to value neighborhood schools. I’m not in favor of busing kids all over town to even out the FRL numbers, but at the same time, I have some reluctance to start building new schools that would make the FRL disparities worse – especially when that money might be useful in other ways. It’s a hard issue, but to me it seems to raise questions about what kind of community we want to be, as much as any questions about capacity projections.

Karen W said...

Dan, I am not suggesting the elimination of special use programs. I am suggesting that it isn't useful to pretend that 15 to 17% of the east side elementary classrooms don't exist for planning purposes. It makes sense to at least consider whether special programs could be relocated to make the best use of existing capacity.

Chris said...

Dan – I think Karen was referring to the special use numbers that way partly because that’s how the district presents the numbers, but also partly because, unless we know exactly how those rooms are being used, we just don’t know whether they might offer opportunities to relieve capacity concerns. Similarly, the district makes overall projections, but they’re not broken down by school. It’s also not clear whether the capacity numbers take into account existing temporary classrooms (one of which we have at Hoover). In other words, there is a level of opacity to the data that we have from the district that makes it hard to know exactly what the capacity issues are.

All of which gives me a serious case of deja vu. I make a public records request to get the discipline numbers at Hoover, and when I finally get them, the district says they don’t mean anything because they weren’t collected in a consistent manner from one year to the next. We’re given this year’s test scores, but told that we can’t draw any conclusions from them because the test was different. When the numbers support someone’s argument, they’re meaningful; when they don’t, there’s always a way around them. Empirical information, if we could all assess it in a meaningful and comprehensive way, is important. But I’m afraid that the usual function of numbers in these discussions is to make people throw up their hands in frustration and to distract them from the underlying value judgments that ultimately have to drive any policy decisions.

KD said...

1)I think I agree mostly with Chris's comments here.

2)If and when there is a new elementary school on the east side, it'd be hard to imagine that an older smaller school might not close in the process. We can't forget about what happened with Roosevelt.

3)How does the school district determine capacity at any one school? Does it include use of trailer classrooms?

4)Is potential overcrowding at SEJH more of a priority than building a new elementary? When would we address that?

5) Going along with what Chris said this does come out sounding a little like "We don't want to go to that school...."...and that does bother me. Ultimately some one will need to be willing to compromise here, otherwise

6)I'm sort of zoned out of some of the redistricting talk. What I find sad is that these issues get so much attention at the expense of other issues. Our board members and administrators should be able to simultaneously handle growth and redistricting issues and other important issues within the school.

KD said...

I'm also concerned about the language of the petition specifying that the school be on the "far east side".

Does that mean east of Scott Boulevard?

Has the group given consideration for other locations of an east side school?

This is my opinion, and my opinion only....but some of this sounds a little like other redistricting/school building discussions we've had in that part of the motivation would be to drive additional real estate development.

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Chris said, “The Patch article mentions that Jason Lewis, the head of the Twain PTO, sees the redistricting "as good step toward improving Twain's 71 percent free-and-reduced lunch rate." I'd be interested to hear the views of the Twain parents on a new elementary school and on how it might affect Twain.”

So would I. Have you contacted Jason Lewis (who I believe gave out his email address during the City High forum last week)?

Somehow the district never seems to be able to capture the perspective of a larger cross-section of Twain parents (or that at ANY of the schools with the high FRL numbers). I’ve explained many times now why the methods they use over and over don’t succeed and I’ve suggested a variety of things they could try. Perhaps some of the rest of you would like to step up at the next board or redistricting meeting and make some suggestions about what could work or, gasp, actually back me on that when I said it over and over again at board meetings and redistricting meetings for the last 3 years? Where is everybody with a stake or concern in this that doesn’t come to the board meetings, redistricting meetings, board committee meetings, joint county meetings etc.?

Just saying, oh, I wonder what they think is lame unless you do something to find out what they think. I think we can all pretty much see “they” aren’t making comments on the PC boards, commenting on blogs, or doing the district’s online surveys.

Jason Lewis stepped up as PTO President at Twain and I admire him for it greatly. You want to talk thankless jobs, PTO is it and president is the most work of all.

I spent 2.5 days walking through the Lake Ridge court last summer going door to door to find out what “they” thought. It’s getting really old to work so hard to help that happen when so many people who don’t just stand around saying, I wonder. If you want to know what they think – do something about it…or do I have to be the one to go door to door for you in the Twain feeding courts too? For each of you that says, I wonder, please let me know what you have personally done to find out and share it with the district because that is what’s needed here, personal involvement beyond anonymous comments on boards.

You all ask so many questions but seem to want others to just feed you their reasoning about what should be done rather than take more than a few minutes to glance over report figures that you don't spend the time to learn about the details behind - educate yourselves or ask where to find it. Make an effort to answer your questions because otherwise you're going to be standing their scratching your heads wondering what happened, how, and why just like you are now on this board.

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins.net said...

Even with the southward redistricting shift the district has on the table right now, we will still run out of elementary seats on the east side shortly. This has been predicted by RSP, the University’s Geography Dept in the past, the current district person from the UI Geography department doing this round of projections, this year’s east side enrollment numbers, the current superintendent, the previous superintendent, and I can’t even recall how many others right now. Believe me, I am the first to demand the district explain its numbers (I begged them at the City High forum to at least add a legend to all maps and tables that explains what their numbers are based on) but your blog is the ONLY place I’ve seen anyone suggest that the east side isn’t pretty much out of seating in the elementary level. It will take years to build a new elementary regardless of who attends Twain and Hills.

The Lake Ridge families have been open enrolling their children out of the district to Highland en masse since they were first moved out of Hills Elementary to Twain against their wishes. Last summer’s petition from Lake Ridge clearly shows the preferences of the neighborhood to attend Hills NOW. Please, stop ignoring it. With Lake Ridge back to Hills, Hills will be close to capacity with people who WANT to be there.

Dan Shaw said...

Julie, you'll be glad to know that Jason has reached out to me (it helps that we're in the same fantasy football league and the same book club :), and I'm trying to arrange a time this week that some of us in the Longfellow PTA can get together with him to discuss how Twain parents feel about a possible additional east-side school.

I too, have a tremendous amount of respect for Jason and for the staff and parents at Twain, and as you (Julie) have eloquently said several times, we parents need to start working together and helping the District come up with effective solutions, which means working with each other's best interests in mind, not against each other.

My feeling is that none of us has all the answers, but working together, if our minds and hearts are in the right place, we do. Not to be cheesy about it or anything, but 2 heads are better than 1, and 200 heads are better still.

More in a bit....I'm working on gathering some of the data Chris was asking for.....

Chris said...

Julie – I don’t think anyone on this blog needs to apologize for asking questions without first moving heaven and earth to find the answers. That’s just what happens in public discussion; to make people feel like they can’t chime in unless they’ve first paid their dues would just be counterproductive. You are never going to get more than a tiny fraction of people to regularly attend school board meetings; that doesn’t mean that anyone who doesn’t attend has to stay quiet or defer to those who do. I know that you’ve done a lot – way more than I have or ever will – but the idea that “people should be more involved” can very easily transform into an excuse for shutting people down and limiting the discussion to a tiny handful of people.

I also don’t think anyone can be blamed for examining the district’s own numbers in trying to assess the capacity issue. According to the enrollment report, there are roughly 150 open seats on the east side – and that’s using a 23-student-per-room basis, which, though it would be nice, few of our schools actually use. Also according to the report, growth is projected to grow by 3.6 percent by 2015-16, which, even if the east side took a proportional share of that growth, wouldn’t push it past capacity. So I think it’s pretty reasonable for people to ask where the flaw in those numbers is.

When you talk about all the people who have predicted a capacity problem, that would be great information to have, but people are right to be skeptical and to want to see the numbers. Do you have any links to those analyses?

I’m happy to hear more about the numbers, but I’d also like to hear two other topics discussed. First, if there is a capacity issue, what are all of the possible ways to address it? Second, would building a new school on the far east side worsen the existing FRL disparities between schools? Yes, I’d like to hear from Twain parents, but I’d also like to hear what proponents of the new school think the effect on Twain, and on FRL disparities generally, will be.

By the way, I’m not at all objecting to sending Lake Ridge families to Twain. I brought the topic up only because Dan suggested that it would be hard to make use of the capacity at Twain, when in fact the district’s plan makes use of most of it.

Chris said...

KD -- I agree that the redistricting seems to have crowded out discussion of other issues, which is one of the reasons I focus mainly on other issues here. (As you say, redistricting has really been talked to death.) I'm not sure, though; I have a feeling the board might have avoided those other issues anyway . . .

Dan Shaw said...

Chris, I was unsuccessful in communicating this point in my earlier posts, so let me try again:

I would highly recommend that you re-examine the data on which you are basing your claim of 3.6 percent growth by 2015-16. I'm guessing you're looking at the graph on p. 23 of the enrollment report, which is as misleading a piece of information as I've ever seen from the District and Ann Feldman. The 2015 elementary projection (7018) does NOT include any students with IEP (Individualized Education Plans) and was made in Spring 2011.

The figure the chart gives for actual enrollment in 2011 (6783) DOES include students with IEP's. The District claims this is the sole reason that their elementary predictions were 346 students low this year, relative to actual enrollment, but conveniently has not included the number of students with IEP's in this chart, so we could check that claim.

To take these two figures from this chart and use them as a basis for a percentage growth calculation from 2011 to 2015 is 100% flawed (although a completely reasonable assumption for you to make.....you very reasonably expected that someone making a growth projection chart would have to be either dishonest or incompetent to feed two completely different groups into the different years.) Check the fine print to confirm what I've said.

The numbers I put together for you last night tried to give a projection for 2012-2015 that was corrected for the IEP students the District left out of these Enrollment Report projections for 2015, to reflect ACTUAL anticipated enrollment. And this is key: I did not assume ANY additional underestimation by the District in future years (even though it was demonstrated this year, as they under-projected elementary enrollment by 345 students in 2011). All I did was add back in the 345 they had already under-projected for this year, and bumped the subsequent years' projections by that amount.

SO, that gives us IEP-corrected elementary projection figures of:

6879 in 2012,
7026 in 2013,
7231 in 2014,
7394 in 2015

You can confirm that I used the proper factor in making these IEP corrections to the District's projections by looking at p. 20 of the 2011-12 Enrollment Report, where it states, "Elementary enrollment is greater than the University of Iowa projections by 365 students, making the margin of error 5.38%."

So please, however understandable the error, please stop spreading the misinformation that elementary enrollment is expected to increase by only 3.6% by 2015. (And I blame the District's shoddy reporting and charts).

The realistic, IEP-inclusive projection for elementary enrollment in 2015 is 7394, a full 9% higher than enrollment this year (6783), when SIX east side elementaries are already above capacity. 9%, not 3%.

More to come on your other questions soon......

Chris said...

Thanks, Dan. I'm more than willing to believe that the district is using different measurements in different places, and I'll look the numbers over in light of what you're saying.

But one question: Wouldn't at least some of those students with IEPs end up in those special use classrooms that we're not counting as part of the existing capacity?

Dan Shaw said...

Sorry, that I don't know.

I do know that the district, in late Fall 2011, revised the way they counted students in each classroom, to include in their enrollment report all students (special ED, behavior plan kids, etc.) who spend more than 50% of their time in a "regular" classroom. That was in response to the fact that Longfellow and other schools were misrepresented in classroom size analyses, with up to 35 kids in several rooms, even though the first attempt at head counts showed only 30 or 31.

So there is obviously some spectrum of classroom presence in those IEP kids. Clearly, the District needs to take more responsibility for presenting the counts for various populations impacting the general ed classroom capacity in a consistent and transparent manner.

Regardless, though, I will have a hard time being persuaded that shuffling a few kids into/out of special ed classes or dropping art/music/computer classroonm space in favor of squeezing in a few more kids to each school is going to be an effective solution to east side growth, short-term or long-term.

You and agree on a lot of things--(1) the opacity of the District's reporting of data throws up unproductive roadblocks that keep us regular joes from having clarity about the reality of our school classrooms and facilities. For my part, though, I don't want to throw up my hands and minimize the empirical argument, because I think it can be straightened out and made clear with enough study and clarification. The empirical reality of this particular issue is far too consequential to let it stay mystified in a cloud of poor enrollment and financial reporting. The growth is real.

(2) Another thing we agree on is the importance of making explicit statements of our values as we make community-based, consensus decisions that best serve our kids. ICCSD administrators and the Board need to know our community priorities if they are to effectively serve our community.

Several Longfellow parents and I spent much of the Fall advocating to the Board and District about our top priority at the elementary level--manageable class sizes. The idea of squeezing every possible seat out of each building runs contrary to this community value, which is one reason we are advocating for more seat space in the form of a new building. We experienced first-hand this Fall what it was like to have 32-35 kids in grades 3-6, and maxed out classrooms in the other grades, and it was tortuous. Hard on teachers, hard on kids, hard on parents, hard on staff. This is not a situation we should aspire to in our elementary school capacity planning--maxing out our seat space in each building.

Personally, the other things I value for my kids in their elementary education are community-building and continuity/consistency in these young kids' educational experience. That is, I place a great deal of stock in the sense of community and bonding that that both kids and parents start to build from the first day they enter Kindergarten, forming friendships with other kids and bonds with teachers, administrators, and other parents. For parents that engage with their school communities and participate, whether through PTA, sports, or whatever, they really do create a sense of family and a support network that kids need, in order to feel nurtured and feel a sense of belonging. I want that consistent experience for my kids. If we had started at Twain, I would have had it there, and would want my kid to stay at Twain. We started at Longfellow, so now I want to continue my family's investment in the Longfellow community. (btw, I'm NOT scheduled to move from there under the current redistricting plan, FWIW).

That, I think, is why nearly all parents around the District resist plans to shift boundaries and bus kids around, for whatever reason.....FRL, capacity, what have you. They value consistency and community in their family's educational experience over other considerations.

Dan Shaw said...

(3) And one more thing we agree on--Lake Ridge to Hills is a good idea. Seems like everyone agrees that is a good aspect of the current redistricting plan. But even in terms of just looking at what it would do for today's elementary population, the current redistricting plan doesn't solve the capacity issue as much as you suggested earlier. Send 69 Lake Ridge kids to Hills and add 104 Windsor Ridge kids to Twain, and you've only utilized an additional 35 of the 96 open seats at Twain.

Down at Hills, you've used up 69 of the 97 open seats, but then the remaining 28 seats are essentially unfillable, because no one else from the over-capacity East side schools should be bused that far away. The Lake Ridge kids are a happy exception to that.

It just highlights that a piecemeal, moving a few kids from here, cutting them out of there, is not a real solution for long-term growth issues. The logistics of topping off one cup with a little off of that one, and a little off of this other one, and then trying to adjust as one school grows faster than others. It's a rat's nest of prolonged upheaval and uncertainty for all families.

To my mind, what we really need is more capacity in general to account for the shifts that take place in each east-side attendance zone numbers, with all of them trending upward. I'm not opposed to additions, but I don't think they would meet the projected need. Furthermore, if you were to take a slice of several contiguous neighborhoods on the far east side and create a new home school zone for them--say, Bon Aire, Sunrise Mobile Home Village, Windsor Ridge, the east side of the county that now goes to Longfellow, COurt st. neighborhoods east of Scott Blvd (currently Lemme), maybe a little of the Lucas zone--you put all of those connected neighborhoods together, and you would have a well-balanced FRL population who would also still be connected by geographic area and could work to build their own sense of community and continuity for their families and kids.

It meets many District redistricting priorities: 1. balancing FRL, 2. contiguous neighborhood school, 3. helps capacity issues at Longfellow, Wood, Lemme, and possibly Lucas and Hoover (some Hoover kids could move over to Lemme when far east Court St. vacates), and 4. Fiscally responsible because of reduced busing and utilizing a more efficient new school to meet enrollment growth on the east side (new schools cost less to operate than older schools).

Finally, I think the old schools are not under threat, necessarily, for closure. The enrollment growth needs will be sufficient to justify their continued existence, and the other older schools (Longfellow and Mann) are not in nearly the state of "disrepair" that Roosevelt was deemed to be. Whatever your take on that, Longfellow and Twain would not cost $5 million to repair/update, as they claimed Roosevelt would have.

I'd like to see the idea investigated in greater detail by the District, that's all I'm saying......

Chris said...

Thanks again, Dan. I'll take a closer look at all that tonight. Three quick points, though:

First, capacity and class size strike me as two separate (though related) issues. Just building a new school won't bring class size down unless the district is willing to hire enough teachers to bring class sizes down. If, instead, they just reallocate the existing teachers to reflect the reallocation of students, class sizes overall won't change. If the district isn't currently willing to bring most class sizes down below 25 students, it's not clear why it makes sense to use capacity figures based on a 23-student-per-room assumption.

Second, I do agree with you about the value of consistency, contunuity, and community, and how that explains a lot of the resistance to boundary changes. A new school would require all kinds of boundary changes, though.

Third, I think there needs to be a more careful analysis of how a new school would affect FRL numbers. Maybe the new school itself would be reasonably diverse, and maybe it wouldn't -- I have no idea. But how would it affect a school like Twain, where the FRL numbers are already very high?

KD said...

I'd agree with Chris about the capacity vs. class size issues. I know at our school just the loss of a few students due to SINA transfers has meant the loss of a teacher.

Would the district actually hire more teachers...or simply allocate them differently? I know that this has been one of my big questions about building another high school...that I've never really seen answered in a way that I would like.

One also has to consider that there would be additional costs such as a principal, cafeteria staff, secretary, librarian etc in a new school. So unless the enrollment really dramatically increased, it would seem that we'd actually have less money available(after paying for a new principal etc.)for more teachers.

julie vandyke firehorse66@netins,net said...

Chris, you said, “The Lake Ridge families are about five or six miles from Hills, but they’re also about three miles from Twain, where they are now, and the commute to either (according to Google maps) is about eight minutes.”
One thing important to everybody not blessed to be able to walk their child to school = making a comparison of home to school commute based on mapquest mileage is just wrong. The same flip maquest judgement is what board members, Superintendent Plugge, and others used to justify sending Hills, THE SCHOOL IN THE MOST SOUTHWESTERN CORNER OF THE DISTRICT to City High THE SCHOOL IN THE MOST NORTHEASTERN CORNER OF THE DISTRICT. We now have, and this includes my address which is ON THE WEST SIDE OF I-380/218 EVEN FARTHER WEST FROM HILLS, a 40-50 minute morning commute to get our kids to school at City instead of a 10 minute commute to West...and then the additional commute from City High to work. Route comparisons of any accuracy or fairness should be based on the actual school day commute drive time, cause mapquest certainly isn’t.

Chris said...

Julie -- Point taken, but I don't see what we're actually disagreeing about when it comes to Lake Ridge. From what I can see, shifting Lake Ridge to Hills is a good way of making use of the existing capacity in Hills, and you're confirming that that's what Lake Ridge families want, to boot.

Chris said...

More thoughts here.

Dan Shaw said...

Hi Chris--

There was one more point from my initial analysis that you questioned, and I just haven't had a chance to address it yet.

(I should add, by the way, that I appreciate your willingness to interrogate my assumptions and help in the process of making sense of District data on enrollment. With the notable exception of Jeff McGinnis, who seems genuinely interested in reaching out to hear parents' ideas on enrollment growth and redistricting issues, and willing to dig into the numbers to uncover the empirical truth behind them, it's frightfully hard to get any dialogue going with the District staff about what goes into this enrollment numbers reporting. Though in fairness, I suppose I could do more to ask them questions directly, when questions arise.

At any rate, my point was, I appreciate you putting effort into questioning these figures with me, and I feel like you've helped me clarify and confirm my thinking on this issue, and our analysis of the issue has benefited from this dialogue.)

So, you questioned my claim that rates of enrollment growth at the elementary level were consistent between West and East schools. I made that assessment drawing on information from the 2011-2012 Enrollment Report that you linked to, on p. 27.

You cited some Census data in an effort to compare East-vs.-West elementary enrollment patterns in the past ten years, but I have to warn you that Census data is all but meaningless in looking at elementary enrollment patterns. Just because N. Liberty population grew by 149% and Coralville by 25%, with IC only at 9% growth, from 2000 to 2010, says nothing about the raw numbers involved or the proportion of people with elementary-aged children in the various populations.

N. Liberty obviously started much lower than IC in population in 2000, and Coralville to some extent, so adding people there makes the percentage growth jump at a much higher rate. But I think there's also a significant effect of childless professionals, or perhaps families with older-aged kids on the West/North side, because their elementary growth rates are only the tiniest bit higher than east siders, like I said.

The chart on p. 27 shows that West side elementary enrollment grew 26% from 2002 to 2011, while East side elementary enrollment grew 25% from 2002 to 2011. So I can safely assume a fairly constant rate of growth between East and West in the next few years, and safely calculate 45% of the District-wide growth numbers I cited to approximate what east-side elementary growth will be in the next three years.

Don't want you to think I didn;t do my homework! :)

Chris said...

Thanks, Dan -- That's remarkable if it's true. (I'll check out the source.) It's hard to understand how Coralville and North Liberty could be growing at that rate and not have more of an impact on the overall west side school population growth rate, even if their initial populations were small.

By the way, I appreciate that you're understanding of my skepticism about the numbers. I honestly don't have a preconception that I'm trying to prove, and am just curious if the data bears out the assertions. I'm still not convinced about the need for a new school, but if the petition gets people thinking about the district's allocation of resources and its long-term planning, it will have done some good.

Dan Shaw said...

Hear, hear! :)

East side elementary growth:

2297 in 2002-2003
2867 in 2010-2011
= 24.81% growth

West side elementary growth:

3179 in 2002-2003
4008 in 2010-2011
= 26.08% growth

Surprise, surprise, the District changed the reporting methodology in 2011-2012, so this year's numbers can't be used to compare to previous years.

p.27

I like how you trusted me..... :)

KD said...

A couple of comments for Dan..

Regarding Roosevelt, there was a lot of speculation that there was a desire to make all schools larger so that they would be cheaper to run, and that was one of the motivations for closing Roosevelt. It would be hard for me to believe that at some point in the future closing another smaller, older school wouldn't happen.

I'm confused about your use of the word contiguous....Bon Aire, Sunrise Mobile Home and Windsor Ridge aren't really contiguous in the way I think of the word.

Certainly building a neighborhood school on the far east side would mean something a little different. One would expect that there would be a lot of discretionary busing(busing because the route is hazardous, for students who wouldn't normally qualify).

Chris said...

I keep coming back in my mind to the point KD and I raised earlier about whether teachers would just be reallocated. There wouldn’t be much point in building a new school if the classrooms themselves wouldn’t get any less crowded. The petition talks about the money for building the new school, but not about money for decreasing teacher/student ratios, which would presumably would have to be done throughout the district, not just in one school. The ongoing expense of operating and maintaining an additional school would seem, if anything, to make it harder to increase the number of teachers. And again, all the capacity figures are based on an assumption of 23 students per room, which sounds lower than what we actually have in reality. In other words, it doesn’t seem like the only thing keeping class sizes from getting smaller is the lack of additional rooms.

Dan Shaw said...

The main thing keeping class size from getting smaller is the fact that the current year's general budget (and maximum allowable spending authority given to the District) is, by state law, based on the previous year's enrollment numbers X a set figure. So this year, the District was only allowed to spend (by state law) $5900 per student, based on head counts that were 442 students less than the actual number of students in current attendance.

This created a shortfall of $2.6 million in our 2011-2012 annual budget that primarily impacted the Distrtict's ability to hire enough teachers to keep class sizes manageable (about 75% of the budget is labor). We also had 0% allowable growth from the state legislature, even while operating expenses increased by about 3%, further stretching the already underfunded dollars.

Steve Murley asked me and some other Longfellow parents (Longfellow bore the brunt of this overcrowding) to accompany him and his staff to Des Moines, along with our Longfellow principal, to lobby state lawmakers to change the budgeting process for growing districts like ours, who are incredibly hamstrung by having to pay for this year's kids with funding that only covers last year's kids. We spoke to the Chair of the House Education committee and five other local state reps, and hopefully made some headway in relaxing this restrictive spending authority.

The point is, such a large deficit between last year's enrollment and this year's, along with 0% allowable for the year, led to not enough teachers. THis year, we'll have an additional $2.6 million that covers the 442 kids we added last year, and we'll have an additional $2.4 million from the %2 allowable growth that the legislature approved. So $5 million more than last year's general fund. Dems in the House and Senate are trying to pass 4% allowable growth for the year after next, which would be even better for getting sufficient teachers.

We are not a poor District by any means. We can afford to put enough teachers in our classes to support our kids' high-quality education, and our Board and District administrators now fully understand what an important priority that is to our community. Funding conditions moving forward look very favorable for supporting that priority, and the community seems united in supporting it, too.

I'm not nearly as concerned about the operational costs of another school, because I've been enough inside the staff budgeting process as a result of our overcrowding fiasco at Longfellow last Fall. Growth projections will support additional funding from the state to cover those additional facilities. And hopefully state legislators will come through with even more relief by enacting regulatory change that gives Steve Murley even greater latitude to meet the staffing needs of his growing District.

Let's keep our eye on the ball. The issue here is enrollment growth and whether or not we will have the classroom space to deal with the number of kids that are coming our way. New enrollment projections are coming out in April, and we'll need clarity in reporting and decisiveness from our Board and Steve Murley's staff, as they set building priorities for the next several years. I think they're pretty tuned in now.

Chris said...

But is the money can expect to have at our disposal next year sufficient to bring the average classroom down to (or near) 23 students? If not, the capacity data, which is based on a premise of 23 students per room, wouldn’t be giving a real sense of how much improvement we could achieve in class size by building new rooms. It’s a difficult question, I realize, because some kids are in gen ed classrooms for only part of the day, and because the district data has a tendency to mix apples with oranges.

Anonymous said...

I am a Twain parent of a first grader. I have not done all the research that may be required for an in depth view. But what I have read and heard about the capacity issues at Twain have nothing to do with not having enough students in the neighborhoods to attend and in my belief have no justification for a new school.
The issue I feel is really the underline cause of an uproar and an inadequately researched petition, is that the SINA (School In Need of Assistance) schools under No Child Left Behind allow parents to have a choice of removing their child(ren) from a school that is labeled SINA to a non SINA school no questions asked. So then we have children who live right around the corner from my family being bussed to other schools on the east side such as Hoover, Lemme, Shimek, and Longfellow and thus increase the capacity at their school. Mind you the budget that can be used for providing tutoring programs to more children who need the help is shared with the budget for bussing which last I heard bussing is using a higher percentage than tutoring. This option to switch schools because of SINA was to offer opportunities to underserved and underprivileged families to move to a "non-failing" school, however, it appears that that target population feels no need to move for whatever reason, but the families who have children succeeding already and already have an advantage over their co-eds are taking advantage to move out of the school with "those kids" (language I've heard at the previous redistricting fiasco meetings). The draw back is that those same children can do so much to improve the schools they are fleeing from.
The plus side of being a low enrollment school is that my daughter's class size is 13, she receives one on one education not because she's struggling or needs special education, but because her teacher is able to spend more time with each student and tailor her curriculum for the individual students' needs. A second bonus is that because they are a SINA school they receive extra funding to provide in school programs to aid students who are struggling, and to provide its teachers with the latest in educational strategies.
I admit that when it came time to enroll my daughter into Twain that I was apprehensive; it was because other people who never step foot into the school and never had their children attend Twain said "oh you don't want your child going there with 'those kids' do you?" and other such comments. But I gave Twain a chance because I knew that if my child needed assistance with reading or math, there would be adequate assistants. Also I'm not forcing my child to ride the school bus for over half an hour to past our neighborhood school just to join another school. I also did not want my daughter growing up in an informant that is not diverse, and had an undertone of parents' acceptance of segregation of the privileged and the not privileged.
I speak for myself when I say that if parents choose to send their children away from their neighborhood schools because of some preconceived notion and use SINA as an excuse to do so, then quite frankly I'm glad that their children are not associated with my child, because all the hard work I put in to make sure my daughter is raised with as little prejudice as possible would badly influenced by children who are raised otherwise. In the mean time my daughter is getting the same excellent education that the Iowa City Community School District has to offer at every school if not better.
Thank you for having this blog post and opening it to a safe and fair discussion.

KD said...

Dan, if the growth figures really do end up being realistic, it seems to be that a more compelling, nonnegotiable priority would be what to with Southeast Junior High....is this something that your group is focusing on? It seems to me the options for flexibility with classrooms and class size are much more limited within that facility.

Disclaimer...any such proposal to modify schools either at the elementary or junior high level would almost certainly come too late for my kids, so I don't have a vested interest in any one project.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for commenting. I’m not at all surprised to hear that a parent who chose to stay at Twain would have some hard feelings toward those who chose to take the SINA transfer. Now, if Iowa gets its waiver, the families who took the transfer may end up back in their designated attendance area. What a great dynamic No Child Left Behind has given us! Rather than actually try to address income inequality or living standards, let’s punish low-income schools and the people who want to stay in them. Brilliant.

Like a lot of other proposals, the SINA transfer system disregarded how much people value having an elementary school in their own community, and how much they value continuity after a child is already settled into a school. Putting people to a choice between (1) transferring to a more distant school that hasn’t yet been designated “failing,” with the unadvertised risk that you might be forced to switch back when the community moves on from the SINA idea, or (2) staying in your own school district after it’s been labeled and stigmatized and after many of its families have left it, was not exactly doing people a favor.

Chris said...

And now, to fund the governor’s education “reform” bill, a state legislative committee has voted to cut $20 million in funding that would have helped reduce class sizes.

The governor’s education director, Jason Glass, has previously stated that reducing class size is not the best use of money, which is better spent on “improving educator effectiveness.” (See this post.)