Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our View - Time to change boundaries for all elementary schools

(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," May 23, 2009)

The nine options recently considered by the Iowa City School District Facilities Advisory Committee had one factor in common: They all required redrawing the boundaries between Roosevelt, Horn, Kirkwood and Weber elementaries.

Whether the Iowa City School Board were to decide to close Roosevelt as a K-6 school or to keep it functioning in its present capacity, the district still will need a new elementary school. Because the district already has the land for this new school in the new development off of Camp Cardinal Road on Iowa City's western edge, the boundaries between these four west-side elementaries will need to be shifted to address overcrowding and socio-economic equity issues.

But we agree with former board president Lauren Reece Flaum, who argues on today's Opinion Forum that the boundary changes shouldn't just stop with those four schools. Because there are gross inequities between elementary schools throughout the district -- and because there seems to be a growing groundswell of support for addressing such inequities -- this school board has a rare opportunity to make a decision that should have been made by previous boards five, 10 or even 15 years ago.

Although changing school boundaries won't be a cure-all for the district's problems, Reece Flaum is on the right track when she writes, "Convening a citizens' committee with the explicit charge of moving each elementary school toward the district average of 33 percent free and reduced lunch population would be a first step."

The district's policy regarding the families who live in Pheasant Ridge Apartments is the most glaring inconsistency in all the current talk about improving equity between schools -- especially in light of the Iowa Department of Education recently criticizing the so-called socio-economic isolation of Roosevelt Elementary. A previous Iowa City School Board implemented a policy -- one that many people now view as class-based, at best, or racist, at worst -- that bussed children from Pheasant Ridge past Horn (their nearest school) to Roosevelt. The map printed in today's Opinion Forum shows Pheasant Ridge as a lone island of purple, non-contiguous with the rest of Roosevelt's attendance area. Long ago, these few blocks should have been made part of either the Weber or Horn attendance area.

Some residents who have come to reluctantly support the administration's proposed plan to close Roosevelt often have consoled themselves with the thought that the plan would finally allow Pheasant Ridge students to walk to their neighborhood school. But even that small consolation is unlikely unless the board and the administration change their current goals of disrupting as few students as possible.

Although no boundary changes have been set in stone, district officials say they want to preserve Horn's existing attendance area as much as possible. The boundary is likely to be expanded eastward to include those sections of Roosevelt's attendance area within walking distance, but the Pheasant Ridge students are likely -- yet again -- to be bussed to the new school, this time at Iowa City's western edge. (No official discussion on proposed boundary changes will begin, of course, until the school board votes on Roosevelt's fate -- which is scheduled for the June 9 board meeting.)

There are no easy answers to how to redraw school boundaries, but if the board members decide to follow the administration's recommendations and to close Roosevelt, then they better make sure that the disruptions caused by this closing will truly help correct past mistakes and even out inequities throughout the district.

Otherwise this board risks merely passing the same old problems to future boards.

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