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!