Saturday, July 20, 2013

Candidates’ responses about closing schools

Here are the responses I’ve received from school board candidates to this question: If you were on the board right now, would you vote to close any elementary schools as part of a long-term facilities plan? I will post more responses as they come in.

So far I have responses from Sara Barron, Gregg Geerdes, Jason T. Lewis, Phil Hemingway, Brian Kirschling, Jim Tate, and Chris Lynch, below. (It’s my own fault that Jim Tate’s response came relatively late; I got in touch with him later than I contacted the others.)


Thank you for your question, Chris. As a member of the facilities steering committee, I feel well-informed about the current and future facilities needs of our district.

I would not vote to close any schools. As a steering committee member, I've already voted to keep schools open! I was one of two members who voted against closing Hoover, and I cast votes in favor of keeping Lincoln and Hills open, as well.

I am familiar with the arguments in favor of school closings. I support the two main concerns they address: operational efficiency, and creating a balanced enrollment at what will become three comprehensive high schools.

I believe that both of these issues can be resolved without closing schools. In fact, I think they can best be addressed by investing in our existing elementary schools and starting work sooner rather than later on the third comprehensive high school. (New elementary construction is needed too. I recently had a tour of the portable classroom complex at Penn. Whoa!)

I would love to hear from other members of the community about their thoughts on our long-term plans for the ICCSD--both facilities and non-facilities related concerns. I invite anyone with questions or comments to email me at I'm also glad to answer questions on Facebook at

Thanks to everyone for their advocacy on behalf of our students. I hope I'll earn your support in the September 10 election.


[Blogger’s note: Gregg Geerdes has not yet filed a candidacy for the board, but plans to do so.]

Chris, I would not vote to close any of the elementary schools. My reasons: (1) We need to add capacity at the elementary level. And we do not have enough money to fund all of the projects that the current Board wants to build. Therefore, it is extremely important that we utilize the capacity that our elementary buildings provide. (2) It is important that the district promote neighborhoods because doing so increases the tax base, which in turn provides more tax revenue to fund the schools. I believe that retaining and fully utilizing neighborhood schools does this; and (3) it’s clear that not closing schools is what the voters want.

The counter to these arguments is that it is more efficient to operate new schools. To some extent this is true. But better management can overcome this. For example, at the recent work session a member of the administration stated that a 500 person school would require 9 janitors and that a 200 person school would also require 9 janitors. If this is indeed the way the district is being operated, then management can and should take steps to improve this poor allocation of resources. And, if we increase efficiency by building new elementary schools but lose property value and tax revenue by closing neighborhood schools, have we really accomplished anything?

Finally, I would make building a third high school a high priority. When this is built, it will take students from City and from West, which will free up space at these schools. This space, and other options for expansion, should be considered and utilized as much as practical before closing Hoover is considered.

I am happy to discuss this further with anyone concerned.


Closing a school or not closing a school is a difficult question to consider. It's difficult to say if I would close a school if I were a member of the current board. While I've been highly engaged in district politics and policies over the past several years, there's no real substitue for immersion. I haven't been privy to all the conversation, all the data, all the knowledge both institutional and otherwise that the board members have at their disposal.

That said, I see our current discussion as one that centers around the weighing of our competing values. We know the people of the district value schools that are integral to the neighborhoods. I don't think there's a member of the board, steering committee or administration who would argue otherwise and doesn't feel the same way. That said, the duty of the board is to explore where that value crosses with the value we place on class sizes and operational flexibility and the long term vision we need to have to supply the best education we can to all our kids.

It's impossible to give one of these values weight over another and still remain true to the mission of the board.

The current board has taken the recommendations of the steering committee and are leaning toward closing Hoover Elementary. While I can understand this conclusion and have been watching as they arrived at the decision, they may have missed a few opportunities to explore the option as deeply as they could and may not have considered other options that would give us more latitude to honor all the above-mentioned values.

First, at the Board Work Session on Tuesday, 7/17/13, Craig Hansel indicated that he had run models on cost for the facilities without closing schools and each time, the result was losing teachers and raising the number of students in our classrooms. At that moment, since we knew the board was considering specifically closing Hoover, the board should have asked him to run costs with a closure at Hoover to be able to compare those projected operational costs. An apples to apples comparison would make for a more informed choice.

Second, I've heard growing concern over the idea that we should begin to build bigger schools along the perimeter of our community. I have reservations about this as well. Although I understand the benefits these kinds of buildings in terms of cost and flexibility, I'm not convinced it's our only or best option. The steering committee didn't come back to the board with a recommendation that showed us the potential for building fewer new elementary schools and allowing us to work harder to create efficiencies and flexibility on our existing sites. If we're creative, is it possible that our existing buildings could be re-imagined to meet our coming needs instead of exclusively building new? Maybe not, but the board hasn't explored the option thoroughly, at least in public view.

The last point I want to make is our long-term planning process will also include the implementations of magnet schools at the primary and perhaps secondary levels as a way to implement the diversity policy. There's been no discussion of how those programs will impact our long-term planning for facilities. We seem to be moving forward with a pretty large blind spot in our facilities planning vision.

So, short answer long, if I were on the board at this moment, would I vote to close a school? Given the process to this point and the discussion that has been had, I would not. I couldn't allow the board to move forward with that plan until the questions I listed above were answered. If we're to make a decision this important, it's imperative we ask and answer all the questions and explore all the options before we move forward. We have an opportunity to move this district in a positive direction, one that serves the needs of our community and heals the divides that have grown deep over the past couple decades. If we're to do this we have to work hard, think creatively and have the courage of our convictions to honor our shared values to the best of our abilities.


Thank you for the email and your interest and advocacy in the ICCSD.

Your question: If you were on the board right now, would you vote to close any schools as part of a long-term facilities plan?

As people may or may not know, I was a candidate in the last School Board election narrowly losing to Patti Fields by 80 or so votes. So when I am asked these questions, believe me, I take it to heart. Neighborhood schools are the foundation of which our great district is built on.

I unequivocably say NO to closing Hills, Lincoln, Hoover, Longfellow, Mann or any other elementary school in existing and vibrant neighborhoods and communities. With what has been provided to the community now, no strong case has been made for the need to close Hoover other than parking, traffic congestion and some future need not yet specified. Money drives all our decisions going forward - which is what I said at many forums during the last election and it still holds true today. We cannot afford to close elementary schools at a time when we need added elementary school capacity. Does anyone remember that before the (BLDD) consultants came to town, City High was under capacity and needed more students but it took BLDD no time at all to say essentially all our schools are over capacity.

We need Board members to be honest with the public and to live up to their promises of the RPS vote and to make overdue renovations/additions to existing schools and where needed, build new ones. The ICCSD has to strengthen and unify our community not divide it and weaken it.

Anyone who has watched or attended school board meeting for the last 4 years knows that I have been very involved and not a silent participant in ICCSD business.


If you were on the board right now, would you vote to close any schools as part of a long-term facilities plan?

The short, honest answer to this question is yes. When school closure is considered in the context of strategic, long-term comprehensive facilities planning, all scenarios must be weighed and analyzed carefully. Looking ahead to the predicted future needs of the district, facility closures should be considered ONLY IF the following criteria are met:

• They are considered as part of a broader redistricting plan that contributes to improved facility equity throughout the district.
• New elementary school constructions and renovations must be completed before any closures occur.
• There is a clear opportunity to reduce operational costs to the district, therefore ensuring long-term fiscal responsibility.
• Plans for a school closure are communicated in a transparent fashion to the affected families and neighborhoods with a reasonable proposed time frame of no less than 3 years.
• Affected families are included in determining a clear plan as to where students will be assigned to attend school at the end of that time period, therefore allowing families to acclimate or adjust their future planning.
• Teachers at an affected school are included in the conversation and there is open communication regarding future facility teaching assignments.
• The closure must align with “Child-Centered: Future-Focused” and affected families will have the opportunity to experience long-term benefits to their child’s education.

Usually discussions about closing schools are reserved for districts that are in decline. Our district is thriving and growing. With planned commitments to build more cost effective, environmentally friendly 21st century schools we have to try our best to predict demographics and enrollment patterns many decades into the future.

I believe that we should be committed to our existing neighborhood schools, but at this moment in time, we have the opportunity to be proactive about the future of our district. Provided that the above criteria are met, and the best interest of the entire district is the compass used in our decision making process, then, yes, I would cast that vote.


In a District that is experiencing growth I find it hard to see the need to close any neighborhood school. During the facilities workshops the over whelming response was to keep our current schools open, even at a potentially higher operating cost. Closure of schools was not part of the focus of the multiple RPS presentations given by District staff that I attended. Giving many in our community the impression that school closures was not even being discussed as the entire focus was on the pending growth of our District.

Keeping in mind all of the data has not been disclosed to the public, I am at this time opposed to school closures. My position on this might change should more data be reviled in regards to operating costs. Closure of neighborhood schools can lead to many issues for that neighborhood further down the road. Does this mean we should always keep schools open no matter what? No, but there has to be a plan in place for the existing property, as well as for the current and future students in that neighborhood.

There have been no plan(s) given as to what exactly would be done with the Hoover lot. There are many other options that could be explored when City High needs expanding. Some of these options could include expanding the front of the school, maintaining the façade and adding more height to the building. The same could be said for any number of our buildings. These are possible options that I feel are worth exploring.

That being said, there may come a time when we need to close some schools. There should be some criteria for that. Some of the things I would look at are:

• Significant cost savings.

• Exploration of the possibility of rebuilding on site (at times keeping with the historic architecture of the existing building and or neighborhood).

• A fully vetted plan, not only for the land, but also the students. This plan has been clearly provided to the public and addresses concerns of the public.


If you were on the board right now, would you vote to close any elementary schools as part of a long-term facilities plan?

My top lines:
1. I have been supporting Neighborhood Schools at Board Meetings since 2004.
2. My primary focus will be on ensuring all our current schools are successful and viable in the long term. This is where would should focus our efforts.

Detailed Answer:
Instead of talking about the criteria or rationale to close a school, I think we should talk the criteria or expectations we have for all of our schools to remain successful and viable in the long term. The immediate benefit from this conversation is we are now involving all our schools in the discussion vs. “picking on” a few certain schools.
For a school to remain viable, I would see 2 primary requirements:
a) Deliver on a Great Education: A school must meet its primary objective of delivering educational proficiency.
b) Meet Acceptable Cost Range: We need to develop a standard for acceptable cost ranges for our general education. We can also create criteria for capital spending as well. Let’s let our schools, communities and staff bring all their innovative and creative ideas together to make our current schools successful.

Once we have objective criteria to assess our schools, then the focus would be helping our schools succeed.

Net, for me, this recent discussion could have been the start of the conversation vs. the end of the conversation.


Chris said...

Jason T. Lewis adds a bit to his answer here.

Chris said...

I'm not sure what to make of Jason's addition to his answer, or why he chose to make it elsewhere instead of here. Maybe it's just a different wording, but he sounds notably more open to closing Hoover in the addition than he did in his answer here.

Just for the record, before he responded, Jason asked me to assure him that I'd print his entire answer. I told him "I'm happy to print a response of any length."

mariaconz said...

Thanks for the clarification on Jason's response, which was essentially a vague and unsatisfying response. You can't be vague on the issue of closing neighborhood schools and expect to be elected to the school board in the current climate of the school board refusing to listen to its constituents say in unison, "Don't close our neighborhood schools!"

Chris said...

Mariaconz -- Thanks for the comment. Now that the noard has voted on the issue, I hope we can get a clearer sense from all of the candidates of whether they think the Hoover issue should be revisited.