Friday, September 6, 2013

Five reasons to care about the Hoover closure

[This post also appears in the Press-Citizen today.]

Hoover Elementary is just one of many schools in our district, but its closure would have implications for everyone. Here are five reasons everyone should care about the proposed closure:

1. Responsiveness to public input. At the district’s community workshops and in responses to the district’s survey questions, the public repeatedly made its opposition to school closings clear – by a roughly two-to-one margin. If the board is willing to stray that far from public input on this issue, what will it do on the other difficult issues, such as redistricting, that it will face over the next four years? And without the public’s trust, how does the board expect to get the 60% approval it needs to pass the bonds that will be necessary to fund its plans?

2. Transparency. The district sold the Revenue Purpose Statement to the voters by saying that it would result in improvements to older schools and the construction of new schools to reduce overcrowding. Nobody mentioned closing schools. Only after the voters had authorized new spending did the board propose to close Hoover. To make matters worse, the board has refused to identify how the Hoover property will be used, and how much that use will cost. (There is wide agreement that the proposed addition to City High will not go on the Hoover property, because it is too far from City’s other classroom areas.) Isn’t the public entitled to answers to those questions before a school closing is approved?

3. Cost. Tearing down a school when enrollment is expanding is very expensive, because you have to rebuild that capacity elsewhere, at great cost. The district plans to spend between ten and fifteen million dollars to replace Hoover’s capacity elsewhere, just to annex its approximately five acres of land to City High, for a use that no one can identify. That’s between two and three million dollars per acre, at a time when the district is already $100 million short of what it needs to fulfill its other plans. The district can’t afford to spend that much to gain so little.

4. Independence. The board’s willingness to uncritically accept the consultants’ interpretations of capacity and enrollment data led to a plan that will cost $100 million more than the board has at its disposal. We need board members who scrutinize the data, ask hard questions, and push back against the administration, its consultants, and the groupthink that too often sets in on the board.

5. Precedent. The same efficiency rationale that is being used to justify closing Hoover would apply equally (or more forcefully) to several other schools that are smaller than Hoover and serve fewer kids. A policy of consolidating smaller neighborhood schools into fewer, larger schools could justify closing Hills, Lincoln, Mann, Longfellow, or Shimek, just as it justified closing Roosevelt four years ago. Why shouldn’t we expect the district to treat other schools the same way it’s treated Roosevelt and Hoover?

No matter which part of the district you live in, the Hoover closure affects you. You can find out more about where the candidates stand on this issue at


Chris said...

In response to Eric Johnson’s comment: Thanks for the comment. Two quick responses. First, I notice that, as in every other pro-closure argument I’ve seen, you will not answer the question of how the property will be used. Does it not matter to you (and Jason)? Is there no use that would make you question the closure.

Second, there is lots of evidence that the public does not want school closure. If the community workshops were going to be ignored as unrepresentative if the board didn’t like outcome, why did they bother holding them? What about the district’s phone survey, which showed similar results? What about the fact that (until now) no candidates have campaigned on a platform of school closings? On the other hand, what is the evidence that the public supports the closing? Anything? Anything at all?

So please answer this question: Do you (or Jason) think that a school closure should go forward if a clear majority of the public is opposed to it?

Chris said...

As for “fear-mongering”: Oh, no, the people in Hills have no reason to fear that their school might be closed. The people at Lincoln and Shimek have no reason to fear that their schools might be closed. Is that the Lewis campaign’s idea of taking people’s concerns seriously?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this article to the P-C. You are absolutely correct that the public did NOT want to close Hoover. There is sadly a small group who is fanatical about advancing the interests of City High and will lie cheat and steal to do so. If City high needs an addtion that is fine - but the dishonest backdoor approach being used is so shameful. It seems a small group of folks has totally dominated the school board (remember how the diversity policy mysteriously contained capacity criteria on High Schools). Ed Stone's recent letter to the editor called for the "larger population on the east side to outvote the other parts of town" or something along those lines - how sad. Can't we simply build or not build schools based on actual capacity needs versus all this dishonesty and politics. I wish the local newspaper would take on this group of fanatics. When two options to close Hoover are presented despite overwhelming public support for no closures, followed by a surprise 12 classroom wing additon onto City High and the paper doesn't even care to ask where they will get the kids to fill that wing (see previous diversity statement). Clearly there is a plan unfolding here - a small group of folks is pulling the strings in a very secretive manner. I thought when the 350 emails were uncovered showing sarah swisher and ed stone basically writing the board's diversity policy in there basement that that would give the public pause about how things are being done. I wish the paper would cover what is actually going on here. It is not pretty.

Mandy said...

I would add this response to Eric Johnson's comment. He seems to question the number of people who attended the BLDD meetings and voted and they had to be unique voters. He seemed to think that every way the district tried to get public input was insuffienct. He did not however suggest a better way for the district to get what he considered a fair sample size. Now, following his logic, would we not have to discount every single election? The last school board election had a tiny turnout of the the registered voters which is only a tiny fraction of eliglible voters. The argument he puts forth is absurd.

Anonymous said...

Could someone explain to me the structural problems at Hoover that Eric Johnson refers to? I’m no architect or engineer, and so I’m curious about Hoover’s needs, apart from air conditioning. It seems to me this building would have no more problems than Mann or Longfellow, both of which are slated for remodeling. This seems like an insincere argument.

oldtimer said...

Who are the City High people who wanted Hoover closed? Are they an organized group? I keep hearing theme referenced, but I never see a group name attached to them.

Mandy said...

Many of the City High group are the same folks who formed the The Yellow signs that were around town for awhile.

Karen W said...

Anonymous--Scenario 1--status quo/minimum maintenance puts Hoover at needing accessibility renovations, HVAC, and window replacement at a cost of $4.0 million. Which is not much different in cost (in millions) for minimum maintenance needs at the following elementary schools not slated for closure:
Coralville Central $4.6
Hills $2.9
Kirkwood $3.8
Lincoln $2.6
Longfellow $4.0
Lucas $4.0
Mann $3.8
Penn $3.4
Shimek $2.7
Twain $4.2
Wood $3.3

JulieVanDyke said...

Chris says, "Transparency. The district sold the Revenue Purpose Statement to the voters by saying that it would result in improvements to older schools and the construction of new schools to reduce overcrowding. Nobody mentioned closing schools."

...hmmm, and yet you think Lynch is a good candidate. Does he not claim to be the leadership behind the alleged "grassroots" public campaign to support the RPS...yes, yes he does, and so I'd like to thank Chris for selling us a lie right along with Murley, Hansel, and everyone else who "Sold" the RPS with Murley's Magical Spreadsheet. Chris, did I not warn you not to the support the RPS without seeing the data and the plan first? Do you think I'm just superstitious? Yes, yes I can be but that wasn't it...I'd already seen this with SILO I and I knew as soon as I attended the first and subsequent RPS presentations to each community that it was the biggest setup for disappointment we could possibly bring down upon ourselves. But you also supported it Chris, so I have to thank you and anyone else that supported it for the mess we're in right now as well...but Lynch get's a special taller stand in the "winners" circle for selling us the RPS, because he immediately benefited postRPS approval by being appointed by Murley, along with other Murley supporting NC leadership, to the important CSIP Committee, from where he made the next Murley leap to suddenly pro-everybody (instead of just the 4th high school) candidate who says he's worked with labor as if being management supervising card carrying union members is something usually held in very high regard, unfortunately. Puppet on a stick...pull the string and watch his lips move.

JulieVanDyke said...

Chris said, "As for “fear-mongering”: Oh, no, the people in Hills have no reason to fear that their school might be closed. The people at Lincoln and Shimek have no reason to fear that their schools might be closed. Is that the Lewis campaign’s idea of taking people’s concerns seriously?"

Um, it seems to me, having watched this very closely and seeing Jason Lewis's reaction to Twain's mission creep from installing HVAC as soon as possible to Twain suddenly slated for a 12,000 foot addition and so much more it'd make your eyes but out at the last Operations (Facilities Committee) meeting...that Jason is happy with whatever happens to the rest of us as long as Twain becomes, as I believe he said in the PC Forum, "The Jewell of the District". I find that unconscionable. It's either all for one and one for all, or somebody breaks rank to grab for a better deal and then remains sheepishly quiet and then supportive of the closure of someone else's neighborhood school - sellout scab as far as I'm concerned.