Monday, May 26, 2014

What the board members said about redistricting when they were candidates

I wrote yesterday that there’s no reason to think that the community supports using major elementary school boundary changes to meet the district’s diversity goals. One reason for that is that most of the current board members did not campaign on that kind of approach when they were running for the board.

Right before the 2011 board election, there was a candidate forum focused entirely on issues related to redistricting. Here’s what the candidates who were elected had to say (transcript after the jump):

I included Karla Cook in that clip, even though she’s no longer on the board, because she was elected, which tells us something about what the voters wanted, and because she was part of the 4-3 board majority who enacted the Diversity Policy, which directed the superintendent to meet numerical goals for the percentage of kids eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch at each school. Marla Swesey and Sally Hoelscher also voted for the Diversity Policy, while Patti Fields and Jeff McGinness voted against it. (Once it passed, McGinness said that he would work to move forward with it.)

The Diversity Policy did require the superintendent to meet the diversity goals by certain dates, and put very few restrictions on how to meet them. It did not, however, require that the goals be met through extensive redistricting. In fact, it contained language suggesting a preference against “non-voluntary movement of students,” and its supporters on the board emphasized the possibility of using incentives such as magnet schools to entice students to change schools voluntarily.

The superintendent’s proposal, however, uses “non-voluntary movement” as the primary (and almost exclusive) means of meeting the diversity goals. Under the proposed maps, for example, almost 80% of the kids at Coralville Central would change schools; so would 63% of the kids at Kirkwood and 54% of the kids at Lincoln. Those changes would be attributable almost entirely to pursuing the diversity goals, since there is no new school opening in that cluster. Although the changes do not involve much busing, many of them would send kids (especially kids from low-income areas) to schools significantly farther from their homes. It’s awfully hard to square that kind of extensive, diversity-driven redistricting with the board members’ positions as candidates.

My point isn’t that board members can never change their views, though fidelity to campaign stances does have value in a democracy. My point is that there is no reason to think the community supports the superintendent’s approach, and that, if anything, the election of these board members is evidence of the opposite. We can only speculate about what would have happened to candidates who campaigned on boundary changes like these, because nobody did.

There was no similar redistricting-themed forum in 2013, though some questions at the different forums did touch on the issue. I am trying to track down those videos and will update this post when I do. In the meantime, the best source for what the 2013 candidates said on the issue is their responses to the North Corridor Parents’ questionnaire, which asked several specific questions on the topic of redistricting and the Diversity Policy. The answers are too extensive to re-post here, but long story short, of the three candidates who were elected, Brian Kirschling was very supportive of the policy, Tuyet Dorau was the least supportive, and Chris Lynch was somewhere in between. There wasn’t much discussion of the magnitude of the redistricting that would have to occur. (The candidates’ responses to the Coalition for Racial Justice’s Racial Equity Survey are also informative, though they make less reference to the Diversity Policy and redistricting.)

The video above is taken from a longer forum in which there were a number of other questions about redistricting and diversity. I’ve edited it down to just the candidates who won and to just the two questions that were most directly about how and whether to use redistricting to achieve diversity. You can watch the full video of the forum here. Here is a transcript of the above video:

Question: What should be the proper mix of cultural and economic backgrounds and also achievement at an Iowa City School District elementary school, or should that matter at all? And Karla Cook, we’ll start with you.

Karla Cook: Well, I obviously would love to see a mix of all economic levels, of all cultural levels. I think we can learn from—all students can learn from every other student. But I’m not sure that I would redistrict in order to achieve that. I don’t think that that should be the goal, is to say, we have three people from India and two people from France, and, you know, to make a mixture like that. I do think that every one of the schools is good, and I think that when you redistrict, we want to continue to be able to say that about every school, that they all offer excellent programs, that they all offer children what they need when they’re learning, and as long as we can say that, the schools are appropriate.

Patti Fields: I think that having a strong mix of cultural and economic, and different background students and mix of achievement does make for a rich school. However, I don’t support using that as a primary criteria for redistricting. I think that one of the greatest things that we can do in planning for schools and for supporting families is having a close connection where there’s access to that school for the family, so that they feel a part of that community. I think using only distance—or using transportation as the way to move students around is not something that is family-friendly. However, when we have a chance and are drawing new boundaries for schools, that is one of the factors that we can consider when we’re doing new boundaries, as long as it’s within a close range of the attendance area.

Sally Hoelscher: I agree that a nice mix would be a good thing to see, but I also agree that this is not a single reason to redistrict kids. When redistricting, you need to look at the whole picture and of course keep in mind what your goals are, and I think, though, that the ultimate goal in our district is, regardless of the cultural, economic, achievement mix in any school, what can we do in that school to make sure that every child has an opportunity to excel.

Jeff McGinness: I think in a perfect world we’d be able to attain, you know, the balance between economic, cultural, and achievement across our schools, but the world isn’t necessarily perfect, and nor is Iowa City, as much as I like to think it is. The factors that we are talking about are just factors that need to be considered when you enter into a discussion about redistricting. They’re no more important than any of the other factors. There’s a lot of other factors that I think are vastly more important. Like Phil said, you don’t want to be busing people a long distance, and certainly not busing people past one school to get to the next, like we’ve done in the past, as well as the concerns for safety. There’s also heightened concerns about being sure that there’s stability in a child’s education. There’s been a lot of talk about the desire to revisit the redistricting year after year after year. Well, families and children deserve some sort of stability in this process. Yes, there’s times that will come up, and we need to constantly talk about the issue, but constantly redoing things, and constantly moving people around, I don’t think is going to serve any benefit, especially if we’re only talking about those factors solely. Now if there’s larger things, yes, then those come into play.

Marla Swesey: I agree with some of the comments the other candidates made about it not being the only factor that you need to consider, but I do remember when I was teaching that I had classrooms where, if I had a really good mix of students, they did achieve better by learning from each other, and not only in the academic sense but also in the social sense as well. I don’t know that that’s the most important thing in the classroom, but I do know that to have students that feel comfortable and safe and have a stable environment, like what was mentioned before, is a very important factor, so I am very aware of how parents need to be a part of their students’ education. The family resource centers we have in our schools help that, help them feel better about being a part of the school family, and I am not a fan of having the buses driving past—taking the students past the school that’s closest to their homes just to balance out somebody else’s mix. So I do think we can look at that and try to make it better for those students that need that stability.

Question: How do you propose, or do you propose, to achieve socioeconomic balance in our elementary schools in a community where we have racial segregation, limited funds, and strong allegiance to the concept of neighborhood schools? And this question starts with Sally.

Sally Hoelscher: I think we touched on this issue when we talked earlier about how necessary it was to have a cultural and an economic and an achievement mix in the schools, and as far as socioeconomic mix, I think it is something that we achieve to do, that we strive to have that balance. However, I don’t think that that is the driving concern behind redistricting. I’m not in favor of busing kids across the district in order to change the socioeconomic mix. I think that there are other factors that we’ve discussed, such as the community feel of the schools, and the neighborhood feel, that are much more important, and I think the issue becomes providing the resources so that whatever the socioeconomic status is of the students in the school, they are receiving the opportunities that they need to excel.

Jeff McGinness: Like we talked about before, I think the socioeconomic balance is a factor that needs to be talked about, it’s not the factor. There’s lots of factors that come into play when you’re talking about the composition of any school or a number of schools. It’s the cultural aspect, it’s the achievement aspect, it’s all the things we talked about before in the previous answer, and so I really don’t have much different things to say, so I don’t want to waste your time, but it’s something that needs to be discussed and looked at, but again, not at the cost of all the other factors, and certainly not a factor that’s going to trump all the other ones that come into play.

Marla Swesey: I also think we touched on this in the other question, and I think it’s a good thing to look at and to think about, but I’m not sure that we can make any purposeful changes in that regard if we’re going to try not to have kids bused from one place to another all the time. I think what happened in our district that has made this such an issue is because we had the No Child Left Behind come into play and we have SINA schools, Schools in Need of Assistance, and when that happened, people panicked and a lot of students left the schools that they thought were not as good as what they should be, so we had school populations being a little unbalanced because of that regard too, because not everyone could just pick and move to another school. But I do think that it’s something that we can get changed and hopefully we will be able to get a waiver from the state so that we won’t have to have those SINA schools anymore, and hopefully the neighborhood will be more balanced in just having the people that live around that school attend that school.

Karla Cook: I think I said earlier that I wouldn’t bus for cultural reasons or I would not bus for socioeconomic reasons either, but I’d like to see us try something innovative that might get the students to mix with each other on certain occasions, perhaps, four times a year, partner up two schools and let them experience each other’s programs, perhaps put on some kind of a play, a carnival, a track meet, you know, something where you could get two schools together and they could meet with the other students and find out that they’re just students like they are and they have the same concerns and the same goals and I think that would be a way for everyone to learn. It would let us use our brains, our talents here in town to start something new rather than just complain about something old.

Patti Fields: I think there are a lot of factors that have affected the isolations that you were mentioning, certainly back the questions before about our relationships with cities and with planning can have an effect on that, for a longer-term plan. However, I think for supporting schools and families, it’s about how we support families to provide the best education that we can, and we do certain programs within schools, but I also think there is lots of room to be creative, to look at other innovative ways to reach families, to offer different programs, and it’s about how we are differentiating between schools. The needs of the schools are not all the same, so always applying the same rules to everyone is not always in the best interest.


Anonymous said...

at the end of the day Iowa City is a community of transients, a few stay but most come and go whether they be grad students or professors moving on to the next job or people from bigger cities that are going to move back, any kind of rezoning will not make any lasting impact unless the board is committed to repeating the exercise every couple of years and at the end of the day I suspect we will all grow weary of that approach

Anonymous said...

The school board wants a homogenized, sterile "McDonalds" version of equity, communities will always vary due to numerous variables, there will be Beverley Hills and Harlems and everything in between at the end of the day and there is nothing wrong with that, each has its own value, what the school board is advocating is unrealistic and devalues the unique contribution that we all have to offer and reduces our worth to an income level, that is neither progressive or empowering, it is only them flexing their muscle to prove they can.

EDJ said...

Anon 10:36m I have to say that I find the idea that we just blithely accept having "Beverly Hills" and "Harlems" [sic] in our public institutions hard to swallow. Repugnant even. But your use of geographic metaphors here does illuminate the pernicious effects of the real estate market in feeding these divisions, so thanks. Also, I'd argue that zoning large concentrations of poverty into 4 of our 19 schools does quite a bit to devalue the unique contributions of individual students. Shouldn't a student's unique contribution come from something more personal than how much money their parents make?

The board members did campaign much more on incentive-based models. Of course its the superintendent that is charged with actually implementing the plan, with the board only weighing in to approve, disapprove, accept, or send him back to the drawing board. This model isn't the only reason that, as Michael Tilley has pointed out, our BoE doesn't do a good job of publicly mediating conflicting values, but it does make sure that if they do any values-based mediation, its either drawn out and protracted or cut short because a deadline approaches.

The superintendent has said a few times that problem with trying to implement the DP via incentives is two fold. One issue is a state law that regulates access to and freedom from magnet programs in a schools attendance area, meaning that you have to give people from across the district equal access to a magnet, and that you can't enrolls students in a magnet if their families want the regular district curriculum. Because of this, to do a magnet here you need excess capacity, of which we have little to none. His original plan for the magnet at Twain was a "school within a school" but the Twain teachers,who'd be designing the curriculum, have firmly rejected that because of the divisions it could create in the school. He floated to them the idea of making it a whole-school magnet, but allowing anyone from Twain's (smaller) attendance area to transfer to the new South elementary. At least one board member seems to be thinking about it as a pure magnet with no attendance area, which would definitely require some new map work.

The other problem here are the Diversity Policy's required numerical targets, although the geographic concentration of poverty in the Southern part of Cluster two means that he will have to ask for flexibility there regardless. I've been a pretty fierce advocate for this policy, but I'd rather see it implemented with some flexibility and see significant progress with better maps than to see the letter of the policy met in such a way that it undercuts the long term goals by suppressing community buy-in and putting too much of the burden of movement on people with the least means. I think the current Administrative Recommendation maps have the potential to do both those things.

I'd very much like to see more incentives in the implementation plan, but I also think we absolutely have to do some boundary moving as well. In many places, the lines between attendance zones have hardened into and become co-terminal with the economic(and cultural, and ethnic) divisions between neighborhoods. Every morning on the way to work I drive out of the Twain zone, through the longfellow zone, and through the Bel-Air section of the Hoover zone. The latter two zones feature blocks and blocks of the kind of housing stock that is scarce in the Twain zone. As long as its true that people who make less money can only afford to live in a few of our district's attendance zones, then we're going to have demonstrably and markedly "poor" schools to go along with our "poor" neighborhoods, and we'll keep encountering the same ugly attitudes about those schools and neighborhoods that were displayed so vividly at the 3rd Cluster Two meeting. The municipalities need to work on this, but the district needs to do what it can as well, rather than waiting on them.

Chris said...

Eric -- Thanks for that info about state law. I wonder how "magnet school" is defined. I guess I'm not so much thinking of magnet schools as just pouring resources into Twain, Wood, and Kirkwood until people from other parts of town choose to open-enroll (or whatever the proper word is) into them, bringing down the FRL. In particular, I'm imagining smaller class sizes, at the expense of larger sizes elsewhere. I don't know whether there would be a consensus to do that or not, but that would seem to be something we could do without triggering state regulations about magnet schools.

I agree that we shouldn't just accept differences in educational quality between schools in different areas. I do wish people were more specific about just what those differences are, since it could affect the choice of how to address them.

EDJ said...

I'm thinking of, and using the term "magnet" to mean a specialized curriculum, not a large influx of extra resources. I think that's the general currency of the term in general and as its been used in the conversations in the district. I think that any magnet will need some additional resources, but some of the way that they're approaching this--drawing on the school's teachers to design the curriculum, for instance--seems to be hopeful in that it could maximize current resources and reduce any extra. But so much is up in the air there that its hard to have any firm feeling about it.

Smaller class sizes can be a kind of magnetizing force though, and before the curriculum magnet was proposed at Twain, Murley had discussed asking for a weighted funding model for schools that remained out of compliance which would let them do just what you suggest. I think we might still see this in the Admin. presentation. I like the idea, and in many ways I think this, combined with substantial progress towards a more balanced demographic, could be more helpful than the proposed magnet. Certainly better than a magnet that's undercut from the start.

Not to over-quibble, but wouldn't smaller class sizes be the result of pouring resources (teachers) into a school?

Chris said...

EDJ -- I'm also unclear about why the district might allow "flexibility" in meeting the Diversity Policy deadlines in Cluster 2, but not in Cluster 1. The changes that are being proposed to meet them in Cluster 1 are enormous. Similarly large changes in Cluster 2 (possibly combined with a better selection of which schools to cluster) could certainly have met the goals and deadlines. And it's Cluster 2 where the new school is being built, which opens up possibilities that aren't present in Cluster 1. So why is Cluster 2 being given a pass, and not Cluster 1?

Chris said...

Yes, smaller class sizes by putting more teachers into the school is exactly what I mean. As long as that doesn't fall into the state's definition of "magnet school," it seems like we could get away with it (assuming the community buy-in is there).

I really do think there is community good will to draw on, but that people would be more comfortable with a reallocation of resources and incentive-based movement than with large-scale mandatory reassignment of students from one school to another (often more distant) school.

Chris said...

I agree when you say "I'd rather see it implemented with some flexibility and see significant progress with better maps than to see the letter of the policy met in such a way that it undercuts the long term goals by suppressing community buy-in and putting too much of the burden of movement on people with the least means." But isn't that the problem? No one has identified a way to do that, and it's not clear it's possible. I initially thought that we could at least make some reasonable progress (if not meet the goals outright) by making modest changes in boundaries, especially as new school opened or adjustments were made to fix overcrowding. But the more I see the actual maps, the less realistic that seems. If the only way to do it is with maps of the kind we're seeing, I don't think you'll ever get the community buy-in. That's why I think the district should go back to thinking about voluntary, incentive-based movement.

Anonymous said...

So EDJ, what left wing solution to the "real estate problem" would you propose? There is a cost associated with building housing and builders/ developers are going to want to maximize their return on investment and renting/ selling low is not a good way to accomplish that. Taxes in Iowa City are high and land in desirable areas is expensive, this combines to make housing expensive and will continue to do so, if anything I think we will see less inexpensive housing in the area. In the long run that may solve some of the FRL issues as people look to more affordable options that are not in a small University town.

Anonymous said...

So EDJ, what left wing solution to the "real estate problem" would you propose? There is a cost associated with building housing and builders/ developers are going to want to maximize their return on investment and renting/ selling low is not a good way to accomplish that. Taxes in Iowa City are high and land in desirable areas is expensive, this combines to make housing expensive and will continue to do so, if anything I think we will see less inexpensive housing in the area. In the long run that may solve some of the FRL issues as people look to more affordable options that are not in a small University town.

Unknown said...

EDJ--do you have a cite for the Iowa laws governing magnet schools? I'm not able to find anything that looks like what you have described.

Julie VanDyke said...

Karen, right on! I haven't heard or seen Murley say that, perhaps he only says it to Jason and Eric? All I see from EDJ above is more dissemination of unsourced and misleading "Murleyspeak" spouted by another Lewis sycophant.
Murley certainly does have a dedicated cheerleader misinformation team...kind of like it's many of the same ones he did for the RPS. Oh yes, because it is = think back about who pimped the RPS for him from the public and the committee seats and honors they received afterwards towards their own future political and district goals, and beware, or at least get citations on the information they convey to you about what is or is not possible in the district) where we were told there wouldn't be a problem with operating expenses (new or old schools as implied without any hints caveats that I saw except from David Dude at Borlaug and Hoover RPS presentations).

The problem Murley has with complying with the Diversity Policy is that he never even tried. All he did was tell us why things wouldn't work, without citations apparently. That's what he does. He tells us there is only one way to do something, the way he chooses behind closed doors so often, and instead of being proactive, everything he pushes is a make it or break it emergency we have to have this right now and do it this way or the sky will fall. Yes, it's been very successful for him so far, both financially and workload-wise, hasn't it.

EDJ said...

Karen- I haven't seen it myself. I wasn't meaning to repeat it as gospel, just passing along what he's said publicly. The most recent instance I know of was at a meeting with the Twain PTO before the second cluster meeting. He has been saying, since last fall, that capacity issues were part of why there weren't initially any magnet proposals in the implementation plan. Note also that the initial proposal to put a magnet at Twain depended on making space in the school by shrinking it well under its capacity.

To be clear, I'm not vouching for this as being correct or not. I don't know. I do find it at least as reasonable to believe that there are some constraints at work as it is to believe that the supt. hates magnet programs, wants to undermine the DP himself, is part of a secret illuminati conspiracy to inculcate freemasonery into district curriculum, or whatever other explanations for him proposing a solution at odds with what candidates talked about on the trail. But honestly, I don't know and was just exploring where we are and aren't in the process, and the relevance of the various board members' positions about incentive programs to other moving parts.

Chris: the reason that the supt. is going to ask for a waiver on Cluster Two is that Cluster Two is numerically impossible given the FRL% in the demographics of the contiguous schools. based on where the schools are, it simply cannot be done, even with a new school opening. That's been clear since the very first maps came out.

Also to be clear, I agree that incentive programs should be a larger part of the solution here. I also think that some boundary changes are in order. Anon 1:16, that's my "left wing solution" a mix of boundary changes that make substantive progress and incentive programs that pull towards buy-in and deeper change, in conjunction with political pressure on the municipalities for more balanced and inclusionary housing in the areas around the core of each school.

Julie- please can the personal insults, ok? I don't know what the hell you're talking about in terms of "committee seats and honors" and I'm not a sycophant for anyone. It is actually possible for people to reasonably come to different conclusions than you.

Chris said...

EDJ -- When I looked at the numbers at the first community workshop, it seemed very hard but not impossible to get each school in the cluster to comply with the goals. But even if it's numerically impossible, that's just because of which schools the administration chose to cluster, isn't it? It's clearly not impossible to bring the east side as a whole into compliance with the goals, if major boundary changes like those in Cluster 1 were used.

I think east siders really need to put themselves in the west siders' shoes, and look at how major the changes in Cluster 1 are, before saying that it's okay to do that but too hard to meet the goals on the east side.

Anonymous said...

Not really sure what you mean by inclusionary housing, if I buy a lot for 50k and build a 1400sqft house for $100/sqft, I have to get 190k for it plus I would like to make a little money on it as well so say I sell it for 210k, with other expenses sales price will have to be about 220k, if someone doesn't have an income of about $75000/yr they won't be able to afford it.

Unknown said...

EDJ--thanks for your response. I thought I may have missed something in my search, but now that I think on it, Murley's comments sound like they may relate to charter schools (governed by Iowa Code Chapter 256F) rather than magnet schools (which do not seem to be defined in either state code or administrative rule).

I did find a reference to magnet schools in the administrative code in the rules for voluntary diversity policies that affect open enrollment (which the ICCSD policy currently does not). Magnet schools are one of the possible steps that a district can take "internally to avoid or reduce minority student isolation". I.A.C. 281--17.14(2)(b). Others include intradistrict student transfer policies, pairing of attendance centers, revision of boundaries of attendance centers, selecting school sites, realignment of feeder systems, and placement of specialized programs and services.

Of course, none of this requires magnet schools to be used or dispenses with potential political opposition a magnet school proposal might face.

Julie VanDyke said...

Eric Johnson, when you spread Murleyspeak as if fact on which others may form opinion, as you did about the alleged "law", and you do so without any caveats or citations, you spread much worse than “gossip”. You help broadcast potential misinformation in a way that can impact public opinion.
Don’t state something as if fact or “law”, if you can’t provide evidence. When your response to the woman who asked you to identify the "law" is a prequel CYA in which you now claim not to actually know if there is a law, that's beyond disingenuous, it’s plausible deniability to spread magic beans. You stated it as fact, provide the proof. You and Murley apparently speak so much that you then disseminate "law" on his behalf, so it shouldn't be a problem to obtain the reference.

Twain PTO meetings are not what I call "public". People meeting in a school building which only some are made aware of is not public, it's private. If Murley only speaks about policy for the whole district in private meetings that don't meet Iowa Open Meeting law requirements and standards (regardless of the number of board directors that also attended), it's not "public" or "transparent", in my opinion, or defined in Iowa Open Meeting law. Guess what Eric, that's a "real" Law.
I've seen you, Eric, "publicly" disagree with a woman's opinion and resort to condescencion, sexism, and well below the belt tactics. You backtrack, revise or deny what you'd said, mock them, call them emotional, delusional, misinformed or imply they are not as intelligent as you think yourself.

I guess Jason Lewis et. al., hoped the attempts to help Mr. Murley deprive my first amendment rights with a policy he wrote secretly behind closed doors would remove this woman that disagrees with you. Not a conspiracy Eric. Facts. On camera, Murley said he didn't know who wrote the policy, that it hadn't come from administration until Chace Ramey interrupted his, in my opinion, lies, and publicly (even by open meeting litmus test) confessed that he and Murley HAD written the policy together in private, not the board in open public meetings.

Eric, the U.S. Constitution is smarter, less condescending, more credible, verifiable, signed, sealed, and voted into law than you or Murley's opinions. It allows you to hold the opinion, to which you are entitled, as it does mine and every other woman you disagree you. If you stuck to facts instead of uncited Murleyspeak, it would't be so hard for to discuss issues with women you disagree. You know, facts, the kind one supports with peer-reviewed evidence, references, documented law or policy, accurate quotes, historical information, public documents (or ones you can at least provide), emails, audios, transcripts, let alone actual law, then you won't need to feign, IMO, such indignance when we poorly uniformed, less intelligent women don't bow to your masculine superiority or, gasp, ask for evidence. You wouldn't need to take it personally or resort to abusive, mental health insults which you are not qualified to make (cause that's not a frequent tactic by abusive males bullying women), new assertions not pertinent to the disagreement, etc. You know, personal attacks on women that disagree with your magic beans. Yes, I know the origin "testimony" but it's changed. Let me provide a reverse example: Gosh, Eric, I worry so that you and Jason are just too sensitive for this hot kitchen.

Anonymous said...

These guys are so clueless if this didn't involve our kid's future it would be funny.