Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our View: Redistricting about to kick into high gear

Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 14, 2010.

When the Iowa City School District began the process of redrawing school boundaries back in October, we wrote, "Regardless of 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." We called on Iowa City area residents to keep coming out in large numbers to meetings and forums, and we called on the School Board to "make sure it is publicly building on this momentum, not quietly stifling it."

Follow the Iowa City Schools redistricting process on our redistricting home page...

In the past few months, the redistricting process has been making some progress. The district has hired consultants to ensure that it has accurate information and that the process moves along. And the district has chosen a 38-member redistricting committee to work with the consultants and to ensure that the deciding making is guided by input from teachers, staff and parents as well as from the different local governments included in the district boundaries.

Unfortunately, as reported in today's Press-Citizen, there have been concerns that committee meetings have been dominated by the consultants' presentations -- leaving an extremely small amount of time for any substantial discussion from the dozens of community members who are volunteering their time and expertise. Rather than facilitate discussion, the consultants have seemed overly focused on collecting the committee members' gut-level reaction -- as conveyed through electronic clickers -- to the "concepts" and complicated data presented to them just moments earlier.

District administrators say they have responded to the committee members' concerns and have added a committee meeting to the schedule. The committee now has two scheduled meetings -- tonight and Jan. 21 -- "to refine concepts to scenarios" and an additional meeting -- Jan. 28 -- to "discuss scenarios, consensus" that it can then take to the public forums scheduled on Feb. 4 and 5.

We hope these remaining committee meetings will allow the process to kick into gear and begin winnowing the concepts, plans and proposals to a number of good options that can be made public a few days before next month's public forums. Although the consultants have the enrollment projections and estimated costs that will be essential for the committee to understand the consequences of their proposals, these boundary decisions need to be based on more than mere numbers alone.

And we hope the list of options for redrawing boundaries still includes more creative possibilities, such as establishing some schools as year-round schools or magnet schools, re-designating some K-6 schools to become K-3 and 4-6 schools as well as building new schools and possibly closing or repurposing schools.

We know that it will be impossible for the committee to present the board with a proposal that will please every group. Yet we think it is very important that these committee meetings start allowing the committee members to speak out more.

In the meantime, the committee meetings are broadcast on the district's cable channel, and all the information presented to the redistricting committee is available on a special Web page on the district's site, redistrict. The Press-Citizen also has consolidated all of its coverage of the redistricting process on

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