Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why pick this battle?

There are now 635 signatures on the petition to keep Hoover and all the schools open. The petition not to use Hoover as a swing school, which was circulated primarily to current Hoover parents, has 285 signatures. Those petitions started only two weeks ago, and new signatures continue to come in on both. (You can sign them here and here.)

In the world of local school governance, six hundred people is a lot of people. The Revenue Purpose Statement, for example, passed by only 733 votes this past February. I remain mystified why the school board would pick this particular battle. There is so much they hope to accomplish over the next ten years—not only on facilities, but also on redistricting and pursuing the diversity goals—and they can’t possibly do it without public support. Ignoring public sentiment about school closings will just make their other, far more important goals harder to achieve.

Some board members have expressed a sense of urgency about finally “doing something.” But if they really want to make changes, shouldn’t they want those changes to be sustainable? If they “do something” without any regard to public buy-in, only to find their changes undone by the voters in future elections, they will have accomplished nothing but wasting several years. If they want lasting change, how many hundreds of people can they afford to alienate?


Doris said...

Actually--I just posted elsewhere and mentioned that you tend to shy way from discussion of motive. And now I see "Why pick this battle?"

The cynic in me says they are annoyed at you. Or maybe they indeed wanted to focus east side attention away from the plan to build that new high school pronto. If so, it worked.

Chris said...

Doris – Thanks for the comments. I don’t flatter myself to think that the board does anything because of me. With this post title, I didn’t so much mean to inquire about their motives, but to highlight their lack of any good arguments for the closure, especially given that it endangers the entire plan by alienating people whose votes will be needed to pass the bond and to follow through on this board’s more important goals.

I do think that the diversity goals are in some tension with the goal of opening the north high school. Somehow the train seems to have left the station on both. I’m not sure that both goals can be met in a way that the public will tolerate, but I’m also not sure that they can’t. I’d like to see a plan. In general, I find the case for the diversity policy less compelling at the high school level, where there are no very high FRL concentrations, than at the elementary school level. I guess if I were to write a diversity policy, it would be concerned mainly with preventing particularly high concentrations of FRL. I’d be less concerned with bringing all schools within a narrow FRL range, unless that could be done with relatively few sacrifices in terms of sending kids longer distances to school.

I do support building that north high school, because I don’t see how West and City can handle the projected enrollment, and I don’t see how bigger high schools are better, least of all for kids from low-income households. I don’t envy the board’s task of trying to balance so many goals at once.

Doris said...

Well--I was joking! But you never know.

My main assumption has been that the offer to close Hoover was mostly an effort to get City High supporters who oppose the new high school to stand down. And then I guess they are hoping to drive more development further out on the east side of town, right? Was it really all that clear that Hoover kids would end up at places like Longfellow and Horace Mann rather than further east, such as Lemme? I know that when we bought our current house, the other places we looked were in Manville Heights, north Dubuque St., and U Heights. I spend enough time driving out to Coralville as is w/o adding on any more mileage. We would not have moved further east than we already are. But that's just us.

A lot of what makes it complex is the individual family dynamic--and how the home/work/school/extracurricular movements must be negotiated.

I'm more comfortable with the diversity policy they came up with than you are. I think it is important to try to pull the outliers on both sides in toward the middle--though I agree that achieving the leveling out is not always going to be worth the cost. And nobody has the right to tell someone else that it is their obligation to bear the cost w/o trying to press for a solution they prefer. I fully understand that many Lincoln families would disagree with my views about the future of the school. They have every right to disagree with me, just as I am questioning the plan to replace Hoover with a parking lot or athletic fields.

I don't worry about the size of the high schools as much. It's possible to create viable smaller communities within larger schools. They are doing that quite effectively for one of our children at South East.

And I have no idea what to make of various projected enrollment figures. The same data can often be presented in all sorts of ways depending on what goals you want it to support.

Thanks again for all the work you do to try to get accurate info about there!

Chris said...

Doris – Board members and others have repeatedly suggested that Hoover kids would go to nearby schools such as Longfellow and Lemme. At the same time, though, the superintendent has talked about how we can expect oddly-shaped attendance areas and some use of busing if the district is to comply with the diversity goals. In any event, under the diversity policy, proximity is not the governing factor in determining where any given child will go to school. We have no way of knowing where Hoover kids (or any kids) will go until we see the redistricting plan.

Doris said...

That's a tough one because I do understand the arguments made by supporters of the diversity policy that at some point the board has to be able to sit down and draw the attendance boundaries. As you yourself have argued in the past (I think?), there is never any guarantee when you buy your home that boundaries won't get changed. The problem in Iowa City is partly the history of past gerrymandering in favor of wealthy enclaves coupled with a lack of regular revision of the boundaries, so that the general attitude is that when you buy a home you are also buying a guarantee that you go to a particular school.

But, of course, residential segregation is a huge part of it, too, and I agree with a point you have also made in the past about the questionable wisdom of foisting onto our public schools the expectation that they will resolve problems that society at large has allowed to fester.

And it's also not that I disagree with you about the importance of openness and the possibility that some of the costs might exceed the benefits (at least in some of the supposed beneficiaries' eyes). But as annoyed as I was at Jason Lewis's tone in that column he published, I can understand why he is concerned that the whole process might come to a grinding halt. Esp. if we are going to be building new schools, it seems to me that now is indeed the time for the school district to try to improve the FRL disparities.

And no matter what they do, some of us won't be happy. Were our neighborhood rezoned from Hoover to Lemme (and if I still had kids that went to Hoover), I'd be more annoyed than if they were rezoned to Horace Mann because the latter is pretty much on my way to work. So it's a bit of a crap shoot for the school board as far as what they do and what kind of resistance they get hit with.

I wish the schools would look into developing some sort of park and ride system that would allow parents to drop kids off quickly in a location where traffic flow can be managed, and then let the kids board a shuttle to school. I know that's an impossible dream, but, boy, would it ever be nice to find a middle ground between sticking a kid on a bus way too early in the morning and dealing with traffic congestion.

Chris said...

Doris – Yes, and if the diversity policy had just said that the board would make reducing the FRL disparities a priority, I wouldn’t have had any problem with it. Opening new schools should certainly enable them to bring down the FRL disparities significantly. It’s the specific numerical goals that I was uncomfortable with, partly because I have no idea what it will take to meet them, and partly because they are themselves (inevitably) somewhat arbitrary. Again, I’m easily persuaded that we should make sure that no school exceeds a certain upper limit on what the FRL rate can be, but I’m less persuaded of the importance of making sure that every school should be within a narrow range of FRL rates. On the other hand, I know that just designating diversity to be “a high priority” would be awfully vague, but to me it’s all lip service anyway until they actually enact a specific plan to bring the disparities down.

For what it’s worth (which isn’t much, I think), Murley said at his recent meeting at Hoover that a few Hoover kids might end up at Mann, but most would end up at Lemme, Longfellow and (I think) Lucas. That’s if Hoover closes, but even if it stays open, the boundaries are certain to change, and even our neighborhood (which is awfully close to Hoover) could end up at some other school. Again, Murley has said that we can expect some oddly-shaped attendance areas.

I’d like to think that kids who live very close to a school would end up attending that school, but I’m not the person charged with making it all work. And I haven’t looked closely enough at the numbers to get a sense of just how drastic the changes would have to be to meet the diversity goals. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it would take some pretty significant changes to meet the goals. Murley reportedly has said that meeting the diversity goals will require us to give up the “clean feeder system” (under which each junior high is paired with a particular high school), but the junior highs have to meet the goals, too, so I’m not sure how much flexibility that really would generate. I think it’s all reading tea leaves until we see a proposal.

I also think – and on this we might disagree – that it would be unwise to enact a redistricting plan that doesn’t have enough community support to be sustainable. If a plan meets the diversity goals but pisses almost everyone off, then the voters will just elect new board members and the only thing that will have been accomplished is the wasting of two more years. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t push for change, only that you have to deal with the public you have, not the public you wish you had.

Doris Witt said...

Quick comment: You write: "I also think – and on this we might disagree – that it would be unwise to enact a redistricting plan that doesn’t have enough community support to be sustainable." I do suspect we agree that "community support" often translates into what the more privileged members of the community support, though. And we're two of them . . . . I obviously think we have a right to speak out as much as we want, all the same.

But, yes, if privileged people don't like what the public school is offering, we typically have the resources to seek alternatives--witness our own decision to pay for six total years of private homeschool education for our children when Hoover wasn't meeting their needs. And if they were to redistrict and tell us our children had to go to West even though we live a five minute walk from City, we'd balk, no doubt. So I think I do hear you.