Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More candidate responses on the Hoover closure

The North Corridor Parents group has collected responses to an extensive questionnaire to board candidates about issues facing the district. Here are the candidates’ responses to their two questions specifically about Hoover. You can read the full questionnaires here. The candidates’ previous comments on the school closure issue are here.

Two incumbents are running for re-election: Karla Cook, who voted in favor of closing Hoover, and Tuyet Dorau, who voted against it.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

I do not think that Hoover needs to be closed in order to have three equal size comprehensive high schools. If elected, I would like to have a more critical discussion of the capacity numbers provided by BLDD. I do not believe that we can use these numbers—which are based on ideals and long-term projections—to make a decision today about the need for land at some indefinite point in the future without more careful review. Even at these ideal numbers, we are still overbuilding our capacity at the high school level under the current plan. I believe that the current board members who passed the overall plan also understand that some adjustments will be needed as our actual enrollment becomes more clear.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

I have no plan in mind for the land currently occupied by Hoover.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

I voted for a scenario that will build 3 new elementaries, a new high school, add capacity at 2 junior highs as well as renovate many other schools. I know that closing any school is difficult and only when there is sufficient capacity at other elementaries will any school close.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

I would want the site to be used for educational programming. That might include outdoor space for some of our curricular areas or possible additions of other types of programming.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

People claim that it was a political vote, which I take offense to. I had asked the board to delay the vote so we could discuss the implications of that particular closure and so that we could take the plan the board wanted out to the community as the plan was different from the recommendations of the committee. However the decision was made to move forward. I voted against it because (1) in my 4 years on the board one of the biggest things I've learned is our community places extremely high value on neighborhood schools, (2) as a person who talks a lot about operational efficiencies, closing Hoover is going to cost us $1 Million which is about 20 teachers. It would be hypocritical of me to vote to spend an extra $1 Million per year when we don't have to (3) looking at the City High and Hoover properties, there is no way anyone can say there will be a contiguous building addition on City High that will be on the Hoover property. Therefore I am pretty certain the Hoover property will become a parking lot or athletic fields. I cannot vote to put a parking lot on a vibrant school not just because of losing the school but also because it would dramatically change the geographical landscape in what I see as a negative way. That’s a busy intersection and putting a parking lot there to me would severely detract from the beauty and green space that is currently there.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

As stated above, I do not see where a contiguous building would extend from City High on to Hoover’s property. Therefore, what would most likely happen is an addition would be built onto City High and the current parking lot and athletic fields would be pushed out to the Hoover property.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

No. My reasons: (1) with the construction of a new high school and a sizable number of current City High students moving to the same, the need to expand City High decreases, (2) if we keep Hoover open, we avoid the need to add a third new east side elementary and thereby save the $14.5M cost of the same, and (3) strong neighborhood schools help preserve property values around them and the district benefits from a strong property tax base.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

Since a significant number of students will be drawn from City (and from West) to fill the new high school, I don’t see any current necessary use for the Hoover location.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

No. We need the capacity and the justification for closing it for City High hasn’t been made. Parking and athletic facilities are no reason to eliminate an exemplary elementary.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?



Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

This decision has been made, and I was not on the board. I question whether it is good practice to overturn decisions of past boards. Please read on to consider the criteria I support regarding the possibility of school closures:

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.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

Growth on the east side is going to necessitate increased capacity at City High, according to projections. How the land will be used, and what the addition will look like, will ultimately be recommended by the central administration based on the input of experts, and the board will then vote on the proposals. These questions are best answered by those who are trained in the areas of building construction and the use of land space.


Thanks so much for the questionnaire. I have tried to carve out the time to answer the questions, but because of the length of the questionnaire and the demands on my time I just haven’t been able to answer as completely as I feel is necessary. I have already addressed many of the issues your questionnaire addresses on my blog and will address further issues as the campaign continues. Please refer your constituents here: www.jasontlewisforiccsd.com I’m also confident the candidate forums will cover many of these issues and more, so they will be a great resource as well.

I am sorry. I tried, but your questions deserve more than my limited time could allow. I hope you understand and will accept this as an alternative.

Thanks for your interest and engagement.

[See update below.]


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

I have been supporting Neighborhood Schools at Board Meetings since 2004. 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.

Instead of talking about the criteria or rationale to close a school, I think we should talk about 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 versus targeting a few certain schools.
For a school to remain viable, I 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. We need to 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 all our schools succeed.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

Any expansion at City will need to be continuous with the main City building. So, given the distance from the main City Building, the Hoover location will be a parking lot or a field.


Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

Looking at the enrollment projection data and the capacity data there is very few seats left open with the closure of Hoover. I would feel better if there was more room for more students in the Elementary level. It would be best to have a solid plan for any property that the District would be closing. There are ways to expand City High without closing Hoover. Different avenues should be explored to expand City High before we fully commit to closing Hoover.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?

Should Hoover close, I would like to see that area have a true educational purpose. I would like to see the home building program brought back. It could be housed near the corner of Court Street and First Avenue, thereby allowing the home to be picked up and moved to its foundation within our community. Those roadways give reasonable access to all major roadways within our community for a truck the size needed.

UPDATE: Jason Lewis amended his response, writing, "I had some time free up and was able to finish the questionnaire. I hope you’ll still accept it. Thanks again for your interest and engagement". Here are his answers on Hoover:

Do you support closing Hoover? Why or why not?

In the short term, no. In the long term, yes. We have an intractable confluence of factors that make Hoover different than our other elementary schools. Hoover currently has 137 SINA transfers. If we opt out of NCLB, those transfers will go away. When we build a new school a couple miles away, those students will go away. Can we afford to run a school that will operate at ⅔ capacity? There are 4 elementary schools that will continue to serve the Hoover attendance zone as neighborhood schools. While we could pour our resources into short term solutions, the district will benefit as a whole from a long-term, strategic approach to how it uses that parcel of land. Currently City’s capacity is 1200 students. Its current enrollment is approximately 1500 students, which puts it over capacity. The facilities plan calls for City to be at 1500 seats. To get there we need 300 more seats. There’s no place to build on the current plot and Hoover will soon be an under-attended school, surrounded by other schools within walking distance that could serve its students, and it’s next door to a landlocked high school that our new facilities plan indicates will be expanded. Also, while City is not a “neighborhood school” as we often define it, it is an anchor for our community and incredibly important to the vitality of the east side out our district. This is a difficult decision, and proper planning and engagement with Hoover stakeholders is deserved. As hard as it is, we must professionally and empathetically manage this transition and then move on towards a stronger school district.

If Hoover closes, how do you envision using the site?



KD said...

I'm not sure I understand Brian Kirschling's comment about overturning a previous board's decisions. Why can't a new board do this?

One thing I hadn't realized until reading through the comments is that there isn't a clear plan of what to do with the Hoover land. Wouldn't that deserve some serious consideration before making the decision to close it. Something like we need X number of parking spaces and Y square feet of building space, etc., so we have no choice to utilize the Hoover land.

Even so, I question how many people who have visited the City High area are convinced that Hoover needs to close and that the only way City High can expand is to take over Hoover. For instance, the performing arts addition was just completed at City High. What happens to the old spaces used for performing arts.

I think at least two current board members have children at City High. What do they see that I do not. Maybe others see the City High property differently than I do, but surely there are other ways to expand besides taking over the Hoover property.

Maybe I need to study the issue a bit more, but if we truly are going to go ahead with building a new high school I don't see the need at all to close Hoover so that City High can be expanded.

I don't know, it seems like the Board is just being careless with our money. For the board member that talked about moving athletic fields, I'd like more information. Would doing things like moving athletic fields really be necessary? What athletic fields? Didn't the district just spend money recently installing a practice field with artificial turf. Improvements have been made to the football stadium.

Chris said...

KD -- I agree about that comment by Kirschling. As I said the other day, this board isn't bound by a previous board's decisions any more than Barack Obama is bound by George W. Bush's. The whole point of elections is to provide an opportunity for change. It's an especially strange comment to make in the context of a long-term plan, which inevitably has to be subject to change.

I'm not convinced that City will need to expand at all, but the board did not make any serious attempt to explore the possibilities for expanding City without closing Hoover. (Side note: I live right next to City High's upper field. Most of the field has been out of commission for the entire year, since it's being used as a place to store equipment for the construction of the new performing arts wing. City managed to live without it for the year.)

At the meeting when they voted on the plan, some board members even conceded that they didn't need to close Hoover to build the addition. In response, Jeff McGinness asked them: why would close Hoover if you don't need it for the addition? -- and they had no answer. McGinness insisted that they did need to close Hoover to build the addition -- but he had no answer to what would be done with the property, either!

Everyone conceded that the addition itself would not go on the Hoover property, and McGinness's beef about Scenario 1c was that it built a parking ramp, so it was pretty obvious that he thought the addition required replacing Hoover with a parking lot. But he wouldn't say so, and there was no dollar figure in the plan for doing anything at all with the Hoover land (or for doing the improvements to it, such as A/C, for the four or more years that it would still be a school). Five votes to close it, and not a single plan for how it would be used.

Careless with our money is right. It's expensive to close a school when enrollment is increasing, because you just have to replace that capacity elsewhere.

Karen W said...

I guess I just fundamentally reject the notion that there is an "intractable conflict" between Hoover and City. It makes as much sense to me to assert that there is an intractable conflict between City High and your house or City High and the city streets. Maybe ICCSD could take a lesson from PCI in Cedar Rapids and get Iowa City to close the streets to make way for future additions at City High?

Hoover needs to be considered as a separate parcel with a replacement value in excess of $15 million! Would the school board get support for spending $15 million for a five acre parcel anywhere else in the district? Does that seem prudent and fiscally responsible? $3 million plus per acre? That's basically what they are voting for when they vote to close Hoover to make way for anything at City.

Chris said...

I agree with Mandy's comment here. It makes no sense to say that a school’s enrollment will be “shrinking” because its SINA transfers may be redistricted, but to ignore the other changes that redistricting will bring. As Mandy points out, Longfellow will almost certainly lose the Windsor Ridge area, which is not close to Longfellow anyway, when the new school is built by Windsor Ridge. Given the density of the existing population in the closer-in parts of town, there will be no trouble filling both Longfellow and Hoover when the lines are redrawn.

Also, no one seems to remember that Hoover not only has more capacity and enrollment than most of the other older schools, but currently has two temporary classrooms. Shouldn’t we want its enrollment to shrink, at least a little?

Again, even if you just look at the current enrollment from the actual attendance area, Hoover (232) has more than Lincoln (201), Mann (190), Shimek (147), or Hills (80) – and those attendance areas, like Longfellow’s, are much more far-flung than Hoover’s. The idea that Hoover’s enrollment is small or shrinking just seems like a post-hoc rationalization for a closure that is really being driven by other reasons.

Finally, notice that Lewis completely buys into the new capacity numbers to support the argument that City has to expand, even though those numbers are patently unrealistic. (See posts here and here.) A few years ago, City had 1500 students, and some of its partisans were urging the board to send the Wickham kids on over...

Chris said...

Karen W. -- That's right. Spending up to $20 million to build a new elementary that will net you about 100 or 150 seats is a pretty expensive proposition.

And that doesn't even count the costs of improving Hoover with A/C and other upgrades in the meantime, or the cost of tearing it down.

Chris said...

"Currently City's capacity is 1200 students." Does anyone really believe this?

"There’s no place to build on the current plot" -- really?

Anonymous said...

From Kirschling...

6. What is your plan to address current overcrowding issues at the HS level between now and the time that the new high school is built?
With the work of BLDD, we now have different measures of what is adequate space per student, but we cannot make a transition to 21st Century capacity overnight! Our current buildings clearly will need to hold a larger number of students for the time being. City has held close to 1,700 students, and this was prior to additions. The overcrowding concerns at BOTH of our comprehensive high schools are problematic, but manageable in the short term as long as we are moving forward with plans to alleviate them.

Weimie said...

First, what a great Blog. Thanks, Chris.
I moved back to IC after being gone for many years. I now live in the north Hoover district. No kids but wanted an area desirable for walkability to good schools. Now, despite seeing my property taxes more than double from where I came from (same type of neighborhood, larger lot, larger home!), I find my local school may close. (Beside the point, the streets are in horrible shape.) If Hoover ended up with fewer than necessary student count, why don't a couple of the classrooms become of use for City High purposes? Art classes, studio/exhibit space, early morning or later afternoon special uses? I'm sure there are a million possibililties. After reading more and more facts from some of the candidates (Phil is one of them), it seems that some school board decisions haven't looked carefully at alternatives. I look forward to voting.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks! So not long ago, City could hold 1700 without an addition, but somehow now it can hold only 1200.

Weimie -- Thanks for commenting! I agree that there are alternatives, but it's also true that the Hoover land is just not well-situated for classroom space for City High. It's far from the other classroom parts of the City building, and on a lower elevation around a corner. Going from a class at City to a class at Hoover would take time and in winter would require a coat. If it does get used for City, it will probably end up as a parking lot, as board member Jeff McGinness implied (but wouldn't say) and as candidate Brian Kirschling has admitted.