Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Superintendent’s proposal would unfairly burden Hoover kids

This is a letter I emailed to the school board today.

Dear Board Members,

The superintendent’s facilities and redistricting time lines are a lot of information, and it will take a while to process it all, but I wanted to raise some immediate concerns about the treatment of Hoover kids under his proposal.

1. The proposal would close Hoover before there is any available space to put Hoover’s kids. Although Hoover’s attendance area will be eliminated at the end of 2015-16, the redistricting time line does not indicate which schools will be redistricted to take in Hoover’s students. It states that Hoover is the only school being rezoned in 2016 – but the Hoover kids have to go somewhere.

The most likely candidates – Longfellow, Lemme, Lucas, and Mann – will not have the capacity to accommodate Hoover’s kids. Mann is projected to be 18% overcrowded, and Lucas to be 24% overcrowded, at that time. Longfellow and Lemme will have lost some students to the new southeast elementary school, but will still be unable to accommodate 350 students from Hoover without being significantly over capacity.

2. The proposal would use Hoover as a swing school for school populations that are much larger than Hoover’s capacity. Hoover’s capacity is 304, but Lucas is projected to have 471 students when it uses Hoover in 2016, and will have even more if it has absorbed some of Hoover’s enrollment. Longfellow will also have way more than 304 students when it would be using Hoover as a swing school in 2017, since it will presumably have absorbed much of Hoover.

The enrollments at Shimek, Lincoln, and Mann are small enough to fit into Hoover’s space – but they are also small enough that two of them could fit simultaneously into the new 500-student elementary school (if they could be renovated simultaneously). The initial plan to use the new elementary as a swing school makes more sense than using Hoover.

3. Under the proposal, Hoover families would have to go through redistricting three times in five years – first when the school closes in 2016, then when east side schools are redistricted again in 2018, then when they are redistricted again in 2020.

4. In sum, the proposal takes Hoover kids, moves them to schools that are even more overcrowded, then, in many cases, moves them back into an overcrowded Hoover as a swing school, then makes them go through redistricting again not once, but twice.

The difficulty of closing Hoover during a time of overcrowding is one of many reasons the board should reconsider the closure. The closure is bad for the ICCSD, which needs Hoover’s capacity, and the proposed treatment of Hoover’s kids afterward just compounds the injury.

Thanks for your consideration..


Chris said...

Michael is probably right that the 2015 redistricting would determine where the Hoover students would go in 2016. (See his comment here.)

That would appear to mean that Hoover would mainly be split between Longfellow and Lemme. Splitting Hoover's 350 kids among just two schools would almost certainly mean that those schools would be significantly over capacity, even if those schools have lost some kids to the new elementary.

Chris said...

Notice that Lucas is not one of the schools being redistricted early on. That means all (projected) 471 Lucas kids would be using Hoover as a swing school. The district says Hoover has a capacity of 304; it certainly can't accommodate 471 kids, even with its two temporaries. Yet the superintendent says that it makes more sense to use Hoover as a swing school than to use the new 500-student elementary.

Anonymous said...

If the District uses the new elementary school as the swing school, would this solve the problem of multiple moves for the Hoover students?

Anonymous said...

"If the District uses the new elementary school as the swing school, would this solve the problem of multiple moves for the Hoover students?" I think the answer to that question is YES. The east side elementary school should be built at the same time as the south side elementary school. We need a good explanation for why that's not happening.

Anonymous said...

If the District uses the new SOUTH elementary school as the swing school, would this solve the problem of multiple moves for Hoover?

Anonymous said...

Could the 8 classroom modular that they are using at other schools during construction be used instead of Hoover?

Doris Witt said...

Howdy, Chris. I've been off the boards for quite a while, but Jason Lewis's sanctimonious and rhetorically Orwellian editorial in today's P-C inspired me to write in to cheer you on. I don't even have a clearly formulated position as far as which type of plan for going forward I'd prefer. But as I continue to work my way through the competing considerations, I'll be turning to your blog as an important resource for sharpening my thinking, not to Lewis's disturbing calls for "shouting down the bullies"--i.e., silencing anyone who disagrees with him.

Chris said...

Welcome back, Doris! I wish I wasn't so busy at work, or I'd have posted even more by now.

Yeah, I'm always taken aback by how quickly people resort to the "bully" label to describe people who disagree with them. I find that there are a number of people who are eager to speak up about their views but get weirdly freaked out when other people then speak up in disagreement. I think it's interesting how much legal training inoculates people against that response -- partly because you get so used to contentious disagreement, and partly because you get to appreciate its value as a means of reaching good outcomes.

Lewis is himself a blogger, of course, and is frequently at the podium at school board meetings. I would be more interested to hear his response to people's substantive objections to the superintendent's proposal.

One thing that I found strange about the superintendent's presentation at the board meeting was the tone of self-congratulation throughout, and the confidence that this proposal fulfilled the expectations raised by the RPS and that the $118 million bond would easily pass when the time comes. What is this confidence based on? The board chose a proposal similar to those that were rejected 2-1 at the community workshop and in the public surveys. The board member who voted to close Hoover was soundly defeated for reelection, while the one who opposed it came in first place. Most of the other candidates ran as fast as they could away from the idea. What reason does the board have to think that this proposal has public support, or that the required bond will pass?

Karen W said...

Chris--I do think legal training inoculates people to some extent. Almost every lawyer I ever argued against in court was friendly out in the hall before and after.

Frankly, the emphasis on being a good team player "weirdly freaks me out" (not really, but just a bit) because I keep thinking someone is falling down on the job as zealous--or devil's--advocate.

Oh, and I'll join Doris in publicly cheering you on. We need more people discussing the issues, not fewer.

Chris said...

Karen -- Thanks. Yeah, I don't get the team player thing. I could just as easily argue that everyone should unite behind my team. That wouldn't be a substantive argument.

JennyThoeny said...

Does anyone know what the process will be for the proposed planned to evolve into the final plan? I would like to understand what we can expect to happen over the next few weeks. Will there be more revisions perhaps in response to public feedback? When will the Board vote on this plan? Will it be one vote? Three votes?

Mandy said...

Once again, I'm puzzled not only by the thinking of the administration, but by so many of the really vocal folks who just want to "move forward". I'm particularly stumped by Jason Lewis. He has be very vocal for YEARS about what the district and what Twain in particular needs. Now that he is apparently happy with what Twain is getting, it's time to come together and stop trying to divide the district. I'm trying to put this together with his "we've been duped" post on his blog immediately after the election. I think the continued discussion is incredibly valuable. I'm also confused of Lewis's seemingly constant cheerleading of any decision Murley makes. I just sort of seems odd that Lewis is Murley's personal PR firm. I don't think that everything Murley does is something that begs critisism, it just seems that Lewis pours it on so thick I immediately think there is some underlying thing I'm missing. Anyone else or is that just me?
I simply do not understand the thinking that disagreement is the same as a personal attack or that it is even dividing the community. I think what divides the community is when there are so many voices that are silenced or that having a dissenting opinion is harming the community. Blindly following along with out asking questions seems to me to be the real dangerous path.
I've also found it interesting that the uber city high faction has, as far as I can tell, been silent about the CHS, addition coming so late in the timeline and that it will only happen if the bond is passed. There seems to be a very high confidence level that this will happen.

Michael Tilley said...

Jenny: My impression from last night is that the plan is a work in progress until it has to be submitted in time for the Nov. 12th meeting. I believe that is a week in advance. It is unclear whether the board will vote on the plan at the Nov. 12th meeting.

Doris said...

I'm not sure where to post this comment, but I guess it kind of reframes my earlier criticism of Jason Lewis's P-C column. Today I read in the P-C a story that comes across to me (perhaps wrongly) as suggesting that Tuyet Dorau is trying to stir up opposition to the diversity policy by claiming that it will have a negative impact on Title I funding. Swisher is quoted as labeling the issue as a red-herring. (I would be inclined to side with Swisher.) Does anyone know what's up with this development? Although I have not (yet) heard an argument strong enough to convince me that Hoover should be closed, my own goal would be to keep working to find some way to get a version of the diversity policy enacted, not to bring the redistricting process to yet another standstill. Frankly I wonder if Dorau has any goal in mind other than to get the new high school built ASAP, regardless of the impact on City and West. What's up here? Can anyone explain?

Chris said...

Doris -- Thanks for the comment. I'm afraid I've been so swamped with work lately that I've been unable to keep up as much as I would like with the latest developments about the district's long-term plan. (Here is the link to the article you mentioned.)

From the article, it sounds like if the diversity goals are met, the federal money would be redistributed because the needs would be redistributed, which doesn't sound unreasonable, at least on its face. It does not strike me as a reason to object to the pursuit of the diversity goals.

I can't say what Dorau's motivations might be; my guess is that she does not put as high a priority on meeting the diversity goals as supporters of the diversity policy do, but I don't see how that would justify this particular argument.

I don't immediately see a conflict between trying to reach the diversity goals and wanting the new high school built as soon as possible, but I don't know all the tradeoffs involved. It seems more likely that Dorau might be anticipating the challenges of districting that new high school once it is built, rather than trying to ensure that it gets built quickly (which, under the current proposal, it does).

I do wonder just what it will take -- in terms of gerrymandering and transporting kids longer distances -- to meet the diversity goals. That seems like a fair question to raise; I think diversity is a worthy goal, but I'm not ready to say that those specific numerical goals should be pursued at any cost. That's why I objected to the diversity policy: because it committed to numerical goals without any inquiry into what it would take to meet those goals. At some point, when there is a concrete redistricting proposal on the table, I think the board will need to discuss how to weigh those goals against other competing values.

As for the difficulties of complying with the diversity policy, I have to add: Closing Hoover can only make that more difficult. Hoover's location makes it a natural for complying with the policy -- it's in the middle of an already diverse set of neighborhoods, and it can draw an economically diverse population without any gerrymandering and without running a single bus. (Sorry to bring everything back to that topic!)

One question: Is that $1.7 million all we get from the federal government? If so, how does it compare with what we are spending to pursue compliance with the various mandates that are attached to federal funding via No Child Left Behind? I often wonder whether we are spending more money trying to comply with NCLB than we are getting from the feds for complying with it. Of course, it's not up to the school district whether to comply; it's a state decision. But if the state were to opt out of NCLB, I wonder if that would free up as much money (or more) that the district would then be free to use to address disparities in whatever way it judges best.

Doris said...

Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I guess that's it: having achieved the victory in getting the new high school slated for construction sooner rather than later, maybe the next logical step for her is to undermine the diversity policy in order to make it easier to get the attendance boundaries drawn where she wants them.

Unlike you, though, I'm glad they passed the diversity policy, because I think it was time for the school board to get up there and say firmly that it is unacceptable to continue to have the enormous FRL disparities that we do. Having the policy in place forced them to try to move toward getting something done. And since part of the reason we landed in this situation was previous gerrymandering, any new gerrymandering could be viewed more positively as a way of trying to undo some of that past harm.

I guess what I mostly wanted to say was that I personally would like to hear the school board explain what they plan to do with the Hoover property so that I can think once again about whether the benefits of destroying the school would outweigh the enormous costs, and whether there might be other alternatives. But when I see what appears to be a pretty cynical effort by Dorau to undermine the larger plan with a seemingly specious argument that the school district would actually lose money if it reduced FRL disparities, that feels worrisome as far as what I hope to see happen in the district.

I didn't decide to speak out against the plan to destroy Hoover for unspecified reasons because I want to retain educational pockets of privilege around town.

Chris said...

Doris – Yes, I don’t think we’re disagreeing all that much about the diversity policy. I’m fine with the policy itself as long as it is not a substitute for eventually having that discussion about just how far the district should go (in terms of gerrymanders or longer distances to school) to meet those goals. But if they just approve any redistricting plan that meets those goals, without actually weighing the costs and benefits of the plan, on the grounds that “we have to because the policy requires it,” then I think they’d be evading their responsibility to thoughtfully weigh costs and benefits.

I can at least imagine possible redistricting scenarios (e.g., busing FRL kids long distances to balance the numbers) for which I would say the costs might outweigh the benefits of meeting the goals, but it’s very hard to make that judgment without seeing a specific proposal.

The diversity policy and the board’s initial facilities plan seem similar in that they both identified outcomes the board would like to see, but put off the hard decisions about how to prioritize competing values until later. I guess what I’m saying is that the board’s commitment seems like lip service until we see what they’re actually willing to sacrifice to fulfill it. In the case of the facilities plan, the board is now dealing with some of those decisions as it tries to decide which projects will go first and which later, and which may depend on passage of a bond.

I agree that there hasn’t been any meaningful weighing of costs and benefits of the Hoover closure – and how could there be, if they can’t tell us what will happen on that property? Nor has the board made any serious attempt to explore alternatives to the closure. (Michael Tilley identifies some interesting alternatives in his post here.)

In Dorau’s defense, Sara Barron’s quotes from the same article made it sound like families from the schools that currently receive those federal benefits might actually be upset if those benefits were shifted to other schools and not replaced somehow by district funds – even if that shift was caused by the evening out of FRL percentages. If that’s the case, then Dorau is at least potentially raising a legitimate issue. (Sara might be out there reading this – if so, I hope she’ll chime in and correct my quick read of her reaction.) Again, it all seems more relevant to the eventual redistricting process than to the facilities plan itself.

Doris said...

OK--Fair enough as far as Barron's comments that the District needs to kick in more funding and/or programming. Maybe that is what Dorau has in mind. But why does this story happen to appear in the newspaper just now, one wonders? Did the reporter just happen upon this issue? Did Dorau contact the reporter?

Sara Barron said...

Hi, Chris and Doris. One point that has been made elsewhere is that Title I funding has been in place for a long time, and our use of it has not solved our achievement gaps. I have heard some on-the-ground examples of its misuse, too.

That said, of course people are concerned that they will lose access to services such as Title I. The district has done nothing to address this concern, other than to roll Pam out to say, "We'll adapt." Not good enough.

Doris said...

Thanks, Sara, for the information. I was just trying to figure out who, specifically, is raising these concerns. And, admittedly, I'm also just wary of Dorau. Chris, I take your point about the downside of probing motives rather than focusing on whether a given argument is convincing. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to figure out why Dorau is so willing to help save Hoover when previously she alienated many friends of mine who have been involved in the battles over Roosevelt and Mann.

Chris said...

Doris – It’s true that I don’t focus much on the board members’ motives. It is certainly my impression that Dorau is unenthused about the diversity policy, and so I wouldn’t be surprised if she is apt to highlight potential downsides to it. It might be true that she’s raising the federal aid issue now to lay the groundwork for opposing rapid compliance with the diversity policy deadlines as part of the facilities time line. I’m not sure I’d see anything out of line about that, if those are her views.

I think Dorau simply does not put as high a priority on evening out FRL numbers district-wide, and isn’t willing to go to the same lengths to achieve FRL balance as are those who supported the diversity policy. My guess is that she is fairly representative of her immediate area (North Liberty and Coralville) in that regard.

I don’t find Dorau’s vote to keep Hoover open too hard to explain; I find it much harder to explain why the other board members were willing to close it. I do think that her position on Hoover is consistent with the interests of her area (North Liberty and Coralville); the money saved by keeping Hoover open would enable other projects to move forward sooner. It may well also be true that she doesn’t see the need for any City High addition at all (just as many on the east side don’t see the need for a new high school). But on the Hoover issue, it happens that her area’s narrow interests happen to coincide with what is good policy for the district as a whole—that she’s “morally lucky,” as they say.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder about whether Dorau would have supported closing Mann, Lincoln, or Hills—which was one factor in the Save Hoover group’s decision not to endorse her in the last election. But even someone who wants to close smaller schools might balk at closing Hoover, which currently enrolls almost 400 kids.

Whatever her motives, she has so far been the only board member asking good questions about the Hoover closure and whether it is necessary. If she had selfish motives but no good arguments, she could be dismissed as parochial. But as it is, it is other board members who seem to fit that description.

Doris said...

Let's see:

The federal aid issue--there's nothing out of line in her raising it if Dorau truly thinks it's a valid concern and she is not intentionally misrepresenting the nature of the potential impact just to stir up opposition to the diversity policy.

The diversity policy--Dorau may be representative of her immediate area, but the fiction of our school board is that all members are supposed to be concerned for the whole district, right?

Keeping Hoover Open--again, it may be realpolitik for her to focus solely on Coralville/North Liberty, but until such time as we move toward a school board elected by districts (which increasingly I think we should), it matters to me whether she actually does feel any obligation to serve the families and children on the east side.

On the rationale for saving Hoover--the fact that Dorau's "values" don't mesh with mine matters to me in the sense that I increasingly realize the importance of speaking in very precise terms about which plans I support and which I don't, and why. Dorau may be asking questions about Hoover, but her broader views do not seem compatible with mine.

Similarly, my own support for keeping a small school such as Lincoln open is contingent upon re-gerrymandering to raise the school's FRL percentage to something closer to the district average. The only way I think the school should remain the way it is would be for the supporters to pool their money, buy it, and turn it into a real private school instead of a fully tax-payer funded one.

I think there were opportunities to engage you more in this issue in your response to my other post? I'll sign off from this comment and go check.

Chris said...

Doris – I think our disagreement is probably more theoretical than real. I suspect it wouldn’t take great sacrifices to bring Lincoln’s FRL number up. But it’s true that I’m open to the idea that there are constraints on what might be possible, and that the costs of meeting the diversity goals (and doing so by the policy’s deadlines) might outweigh the benefits in some instances. I don’t feel comfortable saying that we should pursue those goals and deadlines no matter what it takes to do so, especially when I haven’t yet seen the plan for what it would take. Again, I think bringing down the very high FRL rates that exist in some elementaries is the most important thing and would justify larger sacrifices than making sure that every elementary meets some minimum FRL rate.

I’m not meaning to take any position on Tuyet Dorau per se, or on how she might address other issues. I’ll be happy if board members reconsider the decision to close Hoover; if they happen to do it for the right reasons as well, I’ll see that as icing on the cake.

Doris said...

Hi, Chris--Thanks for responding. Agree. We aren't that far apart, I don't think.

Chris said...

Tuyet Dorau asked me to post the following comment for her (since she had difficulty posting it from a mobile device):


I don't view things as black and white. Instead I look at things from a perspective of at what cost. For example yes we can make up for the dilution of title I funding to meet the requirements of the diversity policy but at what cost. From my understanding of school finances that cost is an increase in class sizes. The ultimate problem is that we don't have those discussions of "at what cost." The reality is no one has a magic wand and we only have so much money.

If you'd like to meet to discuss further please let me know. I would suspect we are closer than you think.

Tuyet Dorau

Doris said...

Thanks for responding, Tuyet. I do appreciate your efforts to be available to constituents.

I want to reiterate that I am nowhere near as immersed in these issues as my friend Chris is, so when I posted my initial query about Title I funding I really was just trying to get some basic info about why you perceived the diversity policy as potentially posing a problem for Title I while Swisher said the concern was a red herring.

After reading your comment I started surfing the internet to get myself more up to speed on how Title I operates. (Below I'll include a relevant excerpt from the federal DOE website.) You refer here to the "dilution" of funding. So I gather from this comment and what I read on the DOE website that the total amount of funding will not decrease, but it will be distributed differently--which on the surface at least would seem to make sense. And the passage below seems to suggest that the 40% mark is a dividing point: schools below 40% still get money, but they must use the funding specifically for students who are at risk. Schools above 40% can use their money to implement school-wide programming.

I appreciate your offer to meet and would like to take you up on it once I have done enough of my own homework to warrant taking up your time. But I guess my uncertainty right now is about why it's a bad thing to go from having school-wide programming to having targeted assistance (with some schools having less Title I money than formerly because their number of students living in poverty has gone down).

And not all students living in poverty (or eligible for FRL) are at-risk. Some are children of grad and professional students who will eventually make a lot of money; some are from families that may never have a lot of money but who nevertheless provide a rich and nurturing environment.

Truly, I'm not a public school teacher or administrator; I just don't know anything more than anecdotal info. In Kentucky, for example, the addition of a new elementary school and redistricting in my hometown allowed my sister to shift from teaching in an extremely high poverty school to one that was far more balanced (going from about 80% to 40%), and she thinks students and teachers alike have gained benefits on the whole. I also don't understand why, if the district were required to kick in extra money, the result would necessarily be larger classes.

We may indeed not be that far apart on some or even many issues. I don't know. Certainly I agree that it is important to talk about costs, and I hope we would agree that discussions of costs and benefits cannot be reduced to crunching of numbers. And even if it could, too often the externalized costs aren't factored in.

Thanks for chatting!

PS: One thing we may have in common is an inability to prove we're not robots. I'm about to embark on my third attempt to post.
LEAs target the Title I funds they receive to public schools with the highest percentages of children from low-income families. Unless a participating school is operating a schoolwide program, the school must focus Title I services on children who are failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet State academic standards. Schools enrolling at least 40 percent of children from low-income families are eligible to use Title I funds for schoolwide programs designed to upgrade their entire educational programs to improve achievement for all students, particularly the lowest-achieving students.