Today our school district’s administration released several possible “updates” for its long-term facilities plan, one of which would close Horace Mann, Lincoln, and Hills Elementaries in addition to Hoover. Another would keep Hoover open as a Pre-K center and relocate City High’s tennis courts and/or softball field to nearby Chadek’s Field.
I’m going to have to spend some time with the proposals to understand them fully. But here are some of my initial reactions:
1. These proposals just confirm that the logic of the Hoover closure leads naturally to the closure of other elementaries, too. The district needs to make a decision about whether it wants to close small and medium-size elementaries—often the ones closer in to downtown—and shift toward having enormous elementary schools on the outskirts of town. All the public feedback collected during the facilities planning process tilted heavily against that strategy, but the administration seems determined to move full speed ahead in that direction. Anyone who wants to support keeping all of our existing elementaries open should sign the petition here.
2. Anyone who cares about keeping a thriving, livable, walkable, sustainable core to Iowa City needs to recognize the threat that these proposals pose. You don’t keep a city livable by closing its closer-in elementaries—which often serve economically diverse neighborhoods and help those neighborhoods thrive—and shifting instead toward mega-schools in pricier new developments on the outskirts of town. (Some of the proposals increase the size of the new elementary schools from 500 students to 600.) That’s why local sustainability advocates like Supervisor Mike Carberry spoke up against the Hoover closure to begin with; the problem will only be compounded if more schools are to be closed.
3. If the district is going to argue that schools closings are justified on the grounds of reducing annual operating expenses, people should keep in mind just how small that savings is likely to be.
4. One of the proposals would keep Hoover open as a Pre-K center. Isn’t that an admission that City High doesn’t “need” the property, which was one of the whole justifications for the closure to begin with? (Maybe that explains why no one could ever identify how City would use the land.)
5. The updates all talk about discontinuing the use of Hoover as an elementary school “no earlier than 2017-18.” The current plan calls for Hoover to close in 2019, so these plans would accelerate the closure.
6. This is what elections are for. If these proposals put the issue of school closings front and center as we approach this September’s board election, then they serve at least one good purpose.
7. I have to admit, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for immersing myself in the details of these proposals. It seems impossible to keep up with the administration’s changing rationales about what the district “needs.” Do they mean anything they say? The one consistent theme has been the desire to close schools that are closer-in (plus Hills) and build much bigger schools on the periphery. So let’s get that issue discussed. And, when our board election gets going, let’s hear where our candidates stand on that question.
Clarification, 5:00 p.m.: The proposals themselves do not specifically refer to the use of Chadek's field, but the district's chief operating officer, David Dude, said on social media that the final option "incorporates a variety of concepts that may or may not have been considered in the past--including... purchasing some city property south of CHS to accommodate outdoor facilities displaced during CHS expansions"--which appears to be a reference to Chadek's Field.