Sunday, March 29, 2015

We don’t have to choose between Hoover and Hoover East (but if we did . . .)

Some have argued that the district can’t afford to keep Hoover School open and still open a new school in the Windsor Ridge area (currently known as “Hoover East”). As a result, the argument goes, Hoover has to close so Windsor Ridge can have its school. This argument is wrong both factually and normatively.

First, there is no reason to think that the district can’t afford both schools. The cost of keeping Hoover open even after opening Hoover East is about $191,000 annually. (See this post.) No one has demonstrated that $191,000—which is about one-tenth of one percent of the district’s budget—is the difference between solvency and insolvency. If we have to start closing schools to reap such relatively small savings, we’ve got much bigger things to worry about than Hoover East. If we can afford to open Hoover East, we can afford to keep Hoover open, too. (We can argue over names later.)

There’s also no reason to think we can’t afford to build Hoover East if Hoover stays open. It’s true that keeping Hoover open means we don’t need to build as much new capacity elsewhere, but the greatest opportunities for cutting costs from the plan are by canceling some of the additions to existing schools. Horace Mann and Longfellow, for example, could still get their renovations, air conditioning, and multi-purpose rooms without adding 330 new seats to those schools (and 330 more kids being dropped off in the morning).

Moreover, it’s reasonable to think that there will be more development and growing enrollment on the far east side, so you can see building a school there as a sensible investment, even if it’s relatively inefficient in the short term. The areas around Mann and Longfellow are already densely populated and are not likely to grow significantly, so it makes little sense to put additions there.

So yes, Hoover East and Hoover can co-exist. But if the district were forced to choose, should it sacrifice Hoover for Hoover East? No. First, if operating expenses were so tight that we had to choose between them, it would make little sense to choose the much more expensive option. The district estimates that opening Hoover East will add $500,000 to our annual operating expenses. Keeping Hoover open will cost less than half of that. Moreover, Hoover East is likely to be underfilled when it first opens (as Borlaug was and as Alexander will be for years to come).

Even setting aside cost arguments, there are compelling fairness arguments. There is no reason why Windsor Ridge’s desires should be filled at the expense of some other neighborhood’s. Closing Hoover to open Hoover East would be a reverse-Robin-Hood transfer. The Hoover area is economically diverse and includes very affordable neighborhoods; in the one-third of Hoover that lies right across the street from the school, the median home value in 2013 was $137,000. Windsor Ridge is a significantly wealthier neighborhood. It would be simply wrong to take the school from the mixed-and-moderate-income neighborhood so the wealthier neighborhood can have it. It would also be one more factor that could turn voters against the eventual bond that is crucial to completing the facilities plan. In a district that has been struggling with equity issues, it would be a great step backward.

I’m always a little surprised when people argue that Hoover should be sacrificed so their own favorite project can move forward. For one thing, it’s an awfully unsympathetic stance to take. Second, it’s effectively an admission that the new project is fiscally precarious; the listener may just decide that it’s the new project that needs to be cut. It would make a lot more sense to recognize that we can preserve our neighborhood schools and still pursue new projects, too.


Chris said...

There is also an argument floating around that if Hoover stays open, kids who go to Hoover East—students from the easternmost part of town—will have to end up at West High. This argument is so outlandish that I don’t even know where to begin. If anyone wants to spell out the logic, I’m happy to address it.

pooter said...

Sound reasoning as usual. Do you think the School Board which voted to close Hoover at the time knew of the secret plans for Hoover and City High that for some reason could not be revealed to the public?

Chris said...

Pooter -- I doubt there's a secret plan, but I suspect different people may have different designs on the property. Some supporters of the closure have persisted in making arguments about the number of parking spaces at City, so it's fair to assume that there is some support for a parking lot. Others are unhappy that some of City's sports facilities are over at Mercer Park, which doesn't strike me as worth closing a school for. Others probably can't get over the fact that the other high schools have more acreage, though even taking Hoover would just be a drop in the bucket in that regard.

Of course, just about any use of the property would cost money, yet there is no use indicated in the long-term spending (and bonding) plan. If they ever identify the planned use, that will mean that much more spending (and borrowing) attributable to the Hoover closure.

One thing we can assume: if they thought the property was going to be used for something that would have widespread popular support, they'd tell us the plan.

Chris said...

Ah, I think I must see what the (still very outlandish) argument is: People are arguing that if Hoover stays open, the district won’t open Hoover East, and if Hoover East doesn’t open, kids from Windsor Ridge will have to go Alexander Elementary, and some of the high school boundary plans have Alexander going to West, so Windsor Ridge kids would end up at West. Where to begin?

1. It’s not true that Hoover East can’t open unless Hoover closes. (See above post.)

2. Every plan that has sent Windsor Ridge to Alexander has done so only temporarily until Hoover East opens.

3. Every plan that has sent Windsor Ridge to Alexander has done so on the assumption that Windsor Ridge kids will eventually be in the Hoover East attendance area and go to City High.

4. No one on the board has ever proposed any plan that would send kids from the far east side of Iowa City to West High, nor would they, because such a plan would be insane.

If this is the kind of argument going around for closing Hoover, then Hoover’s future is bright.

Julie VanDyke said...

I've got a better potential explanation than that = every time the NCP and/or the East's aristocracy want something to happen they pull the fear card and terrorize the easy marks with fear tactics...notice how they pulled together on the community comment/public comment crackdown? I did. They wealthy aristocracy may join, gasp, on the same ticket when it suits them both to do so and/or when they may both want the same thing for different reasons. Don't drink the Kool-aid and fear is the mindkiller...

mariaconz said...

In my opinion, it's foolish to close inner-city neighborhood schools in favor of new schools in the suburbs. It's a sure way to kill a happy, productive neighborhood downtown.

The City of Iowa City council and Planning and Zoning Commission together with the school district appear to be colluding in the destruction of neighborhoods in downtown Iowa City and the segregation of minorities on the SE side.