Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Aug. 8, 2009.
Here are some of the issues we're going to ask the eight Iowa City School Board candidates before the Sept. 8 election. We suggest you ask the candidates about them as well.
• What, if anything, should the board have done differently when considering whether to decommission Roosevelt Elementary as a K-6 school and to build a new elementary school near Camp Cardinal Road?
• What does the district need to do for the next two years to ensure a safe and productive learning environment in a school building they no longer consider a good investment for continuing as a K-6 school?
• What should be done with the Roosevelt building after the new school opens in 2011?
The decision to close Roosevelt and to build a new Camp Cardinal school will require redrawing boundaries between the west-side schools of Roosevelt, Kirkwood, Horn and Weber. But there also seems to be a groundswell of support for addressing the gross disparities between the district's elementary schools by redrawing boundaries districtwide.
• How do you think the board should go about redrawing school boundaries? What kind of public input should be allowed? What kind of timeframe would be required?
• As the board redraws the boundaries, which factors should be considered more important: geographic proximity, minimizing disruptions in students' educational experience, using current capacity, school size, equalizing educational opportunities or balancing socio-economic demographics?
• Should school attendance areas be considered primarily static entities that the board seldom changes, or is it time to start thinking about school boundaries as being more fluid and requiring more regular evaluation?
The district's five-year facility improvement plan released earlier this year didn't include any major improvements for the district's two oldest elementaries, Mann and Longfellow. Because of the board's decision to decomission Roosevelt in 2011, groups like We Love Our Neighborhood Schools worry that this is a policy of "benign neglect" toward those older schools.
• How do you define a "neighborhood school"? Which schools in the district do think fit your definition? What is the value of maintaining (or implementing) a "neighborhood school" philosophy?
• How committed should the district be to keep existing facilities functioning as long as possible? At what point is it in the district's best interest to tear down an existing facility and to rebuild it somewhere else?
• Would the Iowa City Council have been out of line if they had sent a letter to the school board expressing their concerns about how closing Roosevelt would negatively affect the Miller-Orchard neighborhood?
Educational quality and content
In philosophy and in practice, the district has focused on making its educational facilities as comparable as possible. While there are distinct differences between the schools -- such as, mobility rates, poverty rates, PTO contributions and standardized test results -- the district tries to provide the similar educational quality and content at each school.
• How much of a priority should it be for the district to ensure educational quality and contents are as similar as possible for each school?
• As the district considers redrawing elementary boundaries and bringing a third high school online, is it time for the district to allow (or even to encourage) some of its schools to become magnet schools with more specialized or individualized curriculum?
• The district has been in slashing mode in order to eliminate about $6 million from its budget over the next two years. How fair and effective do you think the district has been in deciding what to cut? How might the district have avoided the short fall in the first place?
• How well is the school board living up to the promises made before the 2007 SILO vote?
New high school
During public discussions of high school enrollment, the overwhelming sentiment seemed to be: It's not a question of if the district will build a new comprehensive high school; it's a question of when. But the district recently estimated that a new comprehensive high school with a capacity for 800 students annually would cost at least $1.7 million to operate.
• The High School Enrollment Task Force recently recommended the board should move toward building a new comprehensive high school as soon as the district has "adequate student enrollment" and "it is financially feasible." What do those vague phrases mean to you?
• How should the district address overcrowding at West and underutilization at City before a new high school comes online?
'Those people from Chicago'
As soon as any child enrolls in the district, he or she becomes a student of the district. As such, any problems facing the Iowa City School District shouldn't be framed as us-against-them, or as "the outside students are threatening our good Iowa City kids."
• To what degree is the district responsible for the academic success of every student?
• How well are administrators, staff, teachers and families working together to ensure that students know what to expect and how to behave?
Past school boards have wrestled with the question of how to get more community participation in their sparsely attended meetings. This year, however, the meetings have been filled with parents, teachers and other area residents concerned about how the board's decisions will affect their school and community.
• How well has the board listened to the concerns of the public? How could its listening skills be improved?
• Should the board always address the public through a consensus opinion, or would it be better for individual members to be allowed speak out publicly on school issues as individuals?