Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 31, 2009
Our View - Board needs civil dialogue, not clickers
Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!
You're one of seven contestants in the first round of the newest game show: The Iowa City School Board ("Board tries to pinpoint priorities," Oct. 28, and "Board finalizes priorities," Oct. 29).
Please grab your electronic clicker and -- at the risk of skirting the spirit of Iowa's open meetings laws and obscuring government accountability -- rank the criteria by which our $100,000, out-of-state consulting group will analyze the data by which the board will re-draw boundaries throughout the district.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
The first answers are:
• No. 1: Demographic considerations
• No. 2: Operational fiscal considerations and
• No. 3: Keeping neighborhoods intact.
That ranking is not quite right.
It places too much emphasis on demographics -- even though the current lopsided demographic numbers are the most important driving force in the call for redrawing boundaries.
Let's try again.
This time, please pick only your No. 1 priority.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
The answer is a tie between:
• Operational fiscal considerations and
• Projected enrollment.
That answer is not quite right again.
Just so you know -- and to make sure we get out of here before dawn -- we are going to keep playing this game until we arrive at this final list:
• No.1: Fiscal consideration, operational. (The bottom line will be the bottom line.)
• No. 2: Projected enrollment and building use. (Essential information for computing the bottom line.)
• No. 3: Keeping neighborhoods intact. (Which will help reduce transportation costs and thus help the bottom line.)
• No. 4: Demographic considerations (which we can't get rid of altogether but we can move out of the Top Three.)
This game will get more complicated, of course, in the next round, as the number of contestants expands from a seven-member school board to a 30-member redistricting committee. (I'm not sure if we'll have enough electronic clickers to go around.)
That's why board members need to point out how close the percentages were for those four criteria and stress that the criteria essentially should be treated equally. That way, the committee and the studio audience (the citizens of the district) will know that the board can invoke the rankings or ignore the rankings depending on whatever decision gets made.
If anyone would like to join the studio audience -- or, in all seriousness, if you would like to give your input on how the redistricting process should proceed -- please join us for a public forum at 7 p.m. Monday at Parkview Church. (According to policy, board members won't be able to respond directly to your comments -- other than to smile, nod and occasionally scowl.)
Hopefully, the public will be able to persuade the board members that they should be using a consultant to help them implement their priorities, not to help figure out their priorities. But at the very the least, the public should persuade the board to think twice about using those electronic clickers again.