Sunday, August 25, 2013

Thoughts on the Hoover candidate meeting

People concerned about the potential closure of Hoover School met today with all nine school board candidates, and I just wanted to post some quick thoughts about the meeting here.

The meeting pretty much confirmed the impressions that we already had. Of the nine candidates, there are five or six who express varying degrees of doubt about whether it makes sense to close Hoover. Phil Hemingway, Gregg Geerdes, Sara Barron, and Tuyet Dorau all spoke persuasively about why the case for closing Hoover is so unconvincing. Chris Lynch was also supportive of keeping Hoover open, and Jim Tate expressed his own doubts about the decision.

Three candidates supported going forward with the closure: Karla Cook, Brian Kirschling, and Jason Lewis.

It was striking to see how unpersuasive the pro-closure arguments sounded when they had to share the stage with arguments that made sense. Karla Cook repeated all the flawed reasoning that I’ve been responding to here, arguing that there are simply not enough kids in Hoover’s attendance area to fill its capacity. She seems to think that the school, which last year had two temporaries and held almost 400 kids (including general education, special ed, and preschool), will suddenly sit half-empty if it loses the kids who transfer in from SINA schools. (Though the district hasn’t specified, there are probably about 70 or 80 such kids; the rest being ordinary open-enrollment transfers that every school has – another fact that is constantly misstated.) Cook even said that Hoover would have only enough students to fill one classroom in each grade, which is preposterous, even without the inevitable redrawing of boundaries. Iowa City isn’t Hills.

Lewis’s argument was, in effect: now that we’ve already decided to build all this new capacity, we have to close a school or it will all be too expensive. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. It’s a good thing Lewis hadn’t already decided to build six new elementaries; then we’d have close three more older schools — to save money! It doesn’t seem to occur to him that it would be simpler and cheaper to build only as much new capacity as we need above and beyond what our existing schools provide.

Lewis also distributed a map showing the overlapping radiuses of the schools in the central Iowa City area. We have a lot of schools in central Iowa City, the argument seemed to go, therefore we have to close one. Of course, we also have a lot of kids in central Iowa City. Without a discussion of whether there are too few kids relative to the capacity of those schools, the map is meaningless. Though Lewis thinks we won’t be able to fill Hoover’s capacity, he simultaneously favors adding 330 seats of capacity to two other nearby schools (Mann and Longfellow). If there aren’t enough kids to fill those central east-side schools, why are we adding capacity to two of them, to the tune of about fifteen million dollars? But for Lewis, building new capacity comes first; then the need to tear down a school follows. You might as well light your money on fire.

I couldn’t understand what Kirschling’s argument was, other than that “the decision has been made,” and so the board should go ahead with it. So much for elections.

None of the candidates who support the closure made any attempt to explain how the land would be used for City High. They acted like they would close Hoover even if it weren’t right next to City, which is disingenuous. Neither enrollment nor cost considerations are actually motivating the closure. It is all about getting that land for City, probably to put a parking lot on it.

At some point, I expect the Save Hoover organizers to make some recommendations about which candidates to choose to maximize the chances of reversing the closure. In the meantime, it’s nice to see so many of the candidates expressing opposition or doubts. (Interestingly, two-thirds of the candidates questioned the closure, which is very close to the percentage of the public who opposed the closure at the community workshops.) Each voter can cast only three votes, and it’s going to be hard to narrow those good choices down to three. I’ll be talking out my own thought process here over the next week or so.


KD said...

Thanks for the great summary. I'm assuming that those who support the closure are also assuming the board will eventually build a new high school.

How do they rationalize that any new space will be needed if that happens.

Part of this discussion revolves around the potential need for more parking spaces, right?

I'd like to see a debate if it is really the obligation of the school district to provide additional student parking spaces. If we really do need the parking spaces, isn't there any way we can carve them out of the existing land that City High already has.

Chris said...

KD – They rationalize the addition to City by buying into the consultants’ unrealistic capacity numbers. The consultants say that City can currently hold only 1293 (even with the non-capacity improvements that are part of the plan). Therefore we have to add 300 units of capacity, even if we open a new high school, so that someday all three high schools can have 1500 students. Never mind that City held 1414 students last year and has held 1400 or 1500 or more for years.

Even under that tortured logic, the need for new parking is a mystery. Even if they build the addition, they’d only be adding 86 students to get up to 1500. So why the desperate need for new parking? Scenario 1c suggested that, to build the addition, we’d need to construct a 750-stall parking facility. Seven hundred and fifty spaces, for the addition of 90 more students? Even if they built the addition where a parking lot currently is, they'd lose only about 150 spaces. So how did they come up with 750?

Here's how I think they came up with the idea of the 750-stall ramp. They looked over their shoulder at West, and counted the spaces there. It's almost exactly 750. Therefore City needs a 750-stall ramp. Never mind how the property is laid out, where the spaces are now, where new spaces might go, or where a ramp could go.

More here.

Chris said...

I have added links to video of each candidate's presentation. They are all available here.