Thursday, April 9, 2015

Horace Mann, Lincoln, and Hills now on the chopping block, too

Today our school district’s administration released several possible “updates” for its long-term facilities plan, one of which would close Horace Mann, Lincoln, and Hills Elementaries in addition to Hoover. Another would keep Hoover open as a Pre-K center and relocate City High’s tennis courts and/or softball field to nearby Chadek’s Field.

I’m going to have to spend some time with the proposals to understand them fully. But here are some of my initial reactions:

1. These proposals just confirm that the logic of the Hoover closure leads naturally to the closure of other elementaries, too. The district needs to make a decision about whether it wants to close small and medium-size elementaries—often the ones closer in to downtown—and shift toward having enormous elementary schools on the outskirts of town. All the public feedback collected during the facilities planning process tilted heavily against that strategy, but the administration seems determined to move full speed ahead in that direction. Anyone who wants to support keeping all of our existing elementaries open should sign the petition here.

2. Anyone who cares about keeping a thriving, livable, walkable, sustainable core to Iowa City needs to recognize the threat that these proposals pose. You don’t keep a city livable by closing its closer-in elementaries—which often serve economically diverse neighborhoods and help those neighborhoods thrive—and shifting instead toward mega-schools in pricier new developments on the outskirts of town. (Some of the proposals increase the size of the new elementary schools from 500 students to 600.)  That’s why local sustainability advocates like Supervisor Mike Carberry spoke up against the Hoover closure to begin with; the problem will only be compounded if more schools are to be closed.

3. If the district is going to argue that schools closings are justified on the grounds of reducing annual operating expenses, people should keep in mind just how small that savings is likely to be.

4. One of the proposals would keep Hoover open as a Pre-K center. Isn’t that an admission that City High doesn’t “need” the property, which was one of the whole justifications for the closure to begin with? (Maybe that explains why no one could ever identify how City would use the land.)

5. The updates all talk about discontinuing the use of Hoover as an elementary school “no earlier than 2017-18.” The current plan calls for Hoover to close in 2019, so these plans would accelerate the closure.

6. This is what elections are for. If these proposals put the issue of school closings front and center as we approach this September’s board election, then they serve at least one good purpose.

7. I have to admit, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm for immersing myself in the details of these proposals. It seems impossible to keep up with the administration’s changing rationales about what the district “needs.” Do they mean anything they say? The one consistent theme has been the desire to close schools that are closer-in (plus Hills) and build much bigger schools on the periphery. So let’s get that issue discussed. And, when our board election gets going, let’s hear where our candidates stand on that question.

Clarification, 5:00 p.m.: The proposals themselves do not specifically refer to the use of Chadek's field, but the district's chief operating officer, David Dude, said on social media that the final option "incorporates a variety of concepts that may or may not have been considered in the past--including... purchasing some city property south of CHS to accommodate outdoor facilities displaced during CHS expansions"--which appears to be a reference to Chadek's Field.


Julie VanDyke said...

Storm coming, a real one with clouds, taking the computer and the internet down before the lightning strikes twice in one day...some comment below already, back here later...gagging...oh, but that darn tape!

Sarah said...

Funny, the City, which owns what has been named Chadek Green Park, was not informed of Mr. Dude's plans. That would seem to cast some doubt on the seriousness of such a proposal, which amounts to ICCSD closes neighborhood school then snatches neighborhood park to boot.

Chris said...

Sarah -- I'm not surprised to hear that. If the district were interested in somehow trying to use Chadek's Field, they might have wanted to pursue that when the property was actually for sale, two years ago, rather than wait until after the City bought it with who-knows-what restrictions on its use. Multiple people (including me) argued at the time that the district should at least have explored it and asked the neighborhood about possible uses, but nothing happened and the City snapped it up for a very good price.

People have also casually suggested that the district could get ahold of the park behind Horace Mann as part of its (ill-considered) plan to expand that school, but again, there's no evidence that the City (or the park's immediate neighbors) have any interest in that idea.

Julie VanDyke said...

From: Julie VanDyke
Sent: Friday, April 10, 2015
Subject: A gift written out of love on behalf of Iowa Public Education and the children who depend on it.

Good Morning,
Please take a moment to listen to the following link and hear its important but heartbreaking truths spoken well with courage and grace. Thank you Iowa House Representative Art Staed!

I ask that you consider sharing the link far and wide, in every manner you possibly can, to help show how much the daily lives of kids in Iowa Public Schools K-12 matter. We are "growing" our future in them. They are our future caregivers, farmers, leaders, first responders, voters, and citizens. The SSA (Supplemental State Aid) funding currently at a standstill at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines will significantly determine what kind of future we all have when those children reach the helm. These funds directly impact the quality of their education in a way that no other funding is allowed by law to do, SSA is the total number of dollars per child that our school districts are allowed to spend. 1.25% SSA will not bring a future that is anything more than bleak. What will children now starved for adequate staffing in their schools think is adequate staffing and funding for our needs when they reach voting age?

Please help make a difference at this crucial moment in Iowa education history. EVERY voice towards this cause makes a difference. Qui tacet consentire videtur (he who is silent is taken to agree). If you feel inspired, the single most important thing you could do would be to write a gentle personal letter or communication to kindly ask Governor Terry Branstad's assistance on behalf of all of public school kids in the State of Iowa...because we are entering an Iowa education "state of emergency" in regard to the SSA dollars that feed every district's desperately needed General Funds...the funds used to staff (people not things) Iowa children's class rooms. The school district general funds have been on the equivalent of everything from an air diet to bread and water for the last several years. SSA set at 1.25% for the 2015-16 school year, as the Governor has said is his goal for us, is less than bread and water. The letter read by Representative Staed in the link above demonstrates this, with very personal and specific examples, better than anything I could possibly tell you.

Governor Branstad does not need to be told what to do, I do not believe that will help the situation at all, he needs to be graciously asked for his assistance at setting our goal higher. 1.25% will not staff and run many new schools built with borrowed SAVE/SILO dollars, a funding source they are not allowed to use for staffing. I honestly cannot think that beautiful new schools sitting empty throughout the state as painful reminders of this year’s SSA funding troubles are the legacy Governor Branstad, and the House Majority voting for 1.25% at his request, wants to be remembered for as the longest serving Governor in U.S. History when he retires from office. That would be a shame. Please consider writing or calling Governor Branstad, the contact information is below, to gently ask for his mercy for our children's sakes, for our sakes, and for the benefit of the legacy for which he would wish to be remembered.

Pax vobiscum,
Julie VanDyke

Please send communications to:
Honorable Governor Terry Branstad:
State Capitol Bldg.
Des Moines, IA 50319

Chris said...

Looking at this again today, I think I may be reading too much into the “no earlier than 2017-18” language. I think it’s just a carryover from the original plan; if so, it doesn’t necessarily signal a change in the time line that they later set, under which Hoover would close in 2019.