Sunday, March 15, 2009

Roosevelt: Plugge's Vietnam?

I thought Saturday’s public forum was 1,000 times better than the public discussion portion of last month's Iowa City School Board meeting. But I'm beginning to agree with the people who predict Roosevelt will wind up being Lane Plugge's Vietnam — a quagmire that offers Pyrrhic victory at best.

The biggest issue facing the district right now is the millions it needs to cut from the operational budget over the next two years. There's no way Plugge and the board can cut that deeply — without cutting off their own voter support — unless they have a massive amount of good will from voters and tax payers. (And there's no way that they can keep saying that Roosevelt is too far gone without raising the question, "Why did you let it get that bad in the first place?" A question they've yet to answer adequately.)

If Plugge and the board decide to spend all that good will by moving forward with a controversial plan to close a neighborhood school (forget for a moment that the nearest elementary school is less than a mile away), then they'll have nothing left for the bigger battle. Plugge and the board, if they want to, can win the battle over Roosevelt, but the homeowners and the parents are going to fight them every step of the way (and those homeowners and parents will join with the other "worried about our neighborhood" folks and fight like true-believing insurgents rather than like top-down bureaucrats).

If that fight gets drawn out — which it's sure to become — it will taint any other controversial plans the district needs to implement in the name of cost savings. The people who worry that the district hasn’t lived up to its SILO promises will be watching carefully to see how much this first draft of a facilities plan changes because of the public discussion. They’ve already noted how district's planning department (Plugge and Jim Behle) and the board's leadership seem pretty well invested in the plan already.

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