Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 7, 2009
Our View - Give your input on re-drawing boundaries
On today's Opinion page, Superintendent Lane Plugge describes the series of workshops and public forums that will be taking place over the next five months as the Iowa City School Board decides how best to redraw school boundaries across the district. We commend Plugge for trying to get in front of this controversial issue and for taking steps toward making this process as open and transparent as possible.
On paper, the plan looks thoughtful and orderly, with plenty of opportunities for the board and the redistricting committee to receive input from administrators, teachers, support staff, students, parents, local governments and other residents. But given the heightened concerns and emotions that this discussion is sure to unleash, Plugge and the board need to ensure that the 30 members of the redistricting committee don't just include usual suspects who sign up -- or get asked -- for service. If this process is going to start out strong, it needs to begin with a committed group of people who really do represent the thousands of families who will be affected by this decision.
If the process is going to stay on track throughout the next five months, then the board and the committee also need to demonstrate repeatedly that they are listening and responding to what the public is saying. We need school leaders to learn from the mistakes they made earlier this year during the prolonged discussions over whether to close Roosevelt as a K-6 school. We need them to avoid presenting options as if they are finished plans. We need them to do more than simply smile and nod when members of the public make suggestions. And -- given how much money the district is paying for out-of-state consultants to collect comprehensive data and answer the many questions about the different options for redistricting -- we expect them to keep a steady pace throughout this process.
Regardless how well-designed this process looks now, it will work only if regular members of the community make use of the opportunities to share their thoughts and opinions. The Iowa City area needs its local residents -- whether parents or just concerned voters -- to continue to turn out to meetings and forums in the high numbers that they were coming out in the months before the last month's election. And the School Board needs make sure it is publicly building on this momentum, not quietly stifling it.
District officials have asked that everyone e-mail their suggestions for the redistricting process to firstname.lastname@example.org. They say that they soon will have a dedicated page on the district Web site at www.iccsd.k12.ia.us. We suggest that you help keep the district publicly accountable to your suggestions by also submitting them as letters to the editor at email@example.com.
The School Board is expected to vote on a new plan during its meeting on March 9, 2010. Please take steps to make sure that board members have heard your comments long before then.