Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Sept. 10, 2009
The Iowa City School Board doesn't really have a chance to take a breather after a six-week, six-candidate campaign ended Tuesday night with the election of incumbent Mike Cooper and challengers Sarah Swisher and Tuyet Dorau.
During Tuesday's board meeting -- which started earlier than usual so it could adjourn before the polls closed -- the current board members decided to hire an out-of-state consultant to help figure out the district's high school enrollment and districtwide boundary issues. Almost as soon as the new board members are sworn in Sept. 22, they'll be thrown into the fray of some of the most divisive and complicated issues to face the district in decades.
That's why were glad the results from Tuesday's election suggest that the district's east-west divide is not as pronounced as the campaign rhetoric might have suggested. Based on the most common groupings of campaign signs, the election could have easily been seen as a battle between the westside trio of Cooper, Anne Johnson and April Armstrong against the COPE-endorsed Swisher, Dorau and Jean Jordison. But while North Liberty voted for 77 percent for Johnson and eastside Lemme voted 61 percent for Jordison, the winning candidates had strong support on both sides of the river.
We hope the new and returning board members bring that districtwide vision to bear as they collect information and begin making decisions about how to redraw school boundaries throughout the district -- and whether those new boundaries will reflect a third comprehensive high school coming on line sooner or later. We also hope they live up to all that talk about government transparency, effective communication and fiscal responsibility that we've heard about for the past six weeks.
We'd also like to thank the nearly 4,400 voters who turned out and participated in this important election. While that number represents only a little more than 6 percent of the eligible voters in the district, it's more than double the number of people who turned out last year. And it's the largest number of voters to turn out for an Iowa City School District election since the 1995 bond issue.
We hope this school board election -- with its slightly less than abysmal turnout -- has helped to increase public awareness of how the public school system arguably touches more lives on a daily basis than any other local government entity. But far too many of our readers still find themselves agreeing with an observation made by an anonymous commenter after the 2007 school board election : "I have no kids in the Iowa City school system, and I don't foresee that changing. I have no ties to the schools otherwise. I vote in every other election, but I always sit out the school board. I do this out of complete ignorance of the issues, apathy and general laziness. I know it's my tax money, but I don't really care. It occurs to me that I may be just as bad as those I look down on for not voting in the elections I deem important."
We hope the district residents -- whether parents or just concerned voters -- continue to turn out to meetings and forums in the high numbers that they have been for the past few months. And we urge the board to build on the momentum that has been building, rather than take any steps to stifle it.