Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Feb. 3, 2010.
On Thursday and Friday, the Iowa City School District will be holding public forums on one of the scenarios under consideration by the 38-member redistricting committee.
The good news is that the district and the committee have made the maps for "Scenario 2" available to the public nearly a week before the forums. Besides the small versions of the maps printed today, the Press-Citizen printed a full-size version of the elementary school map on Saturday. And electronic versions of the elementary, junior high and senior high maps are available on the district's Web site, www.iccsd.k12.ia.us/district/redistrict.
The bad news is that the maps are not readily understandable just by looking at them. They require some time, examination and explanation to understand fully.
The printed school names and purple boundary lines featured on the maps, for example, represent the existing school attendance areas. And it's sometimes confusing for readers to realize that they need to pay attention solely to the color coding for the different schools if they are going to understand the proposed new boundaries.
It's also important to remember that the scenario represents the efforts by the committee, consultants and district officials to balance the four redistricting criteria set by the School Board last year:
• Keeping neighborhoods and neighborhood schools intact (assigning students to the nearest school as much as possible).
• Demographic considerations (elementary boundaries are designed to reduce socio-economic percentages to no more than 20 percentage points above the district average of 30 percent).
• Addressing projected enrollments and ensuring that available building space is used efficiently.
• Ensuring that the proposed changes won't add to the district's operational budget.
The scenario addresses much of the strange gerrymandering that been part of the current school boundaries for far too long -- such as sending students from the west side's Hawkeye Court and Hawkeye Drive across the river to Mann (and to South East and City), sending students from north of Interstate 80 across other school's attendance areas to get to Lincoln and sending Pheasant Ridge students past Horn to Roosevelt. We're happy to see that the proposed junior and senior high boundaries are, at least, all contiguous.
But the scenario also adds some strange gerrymandering of its own. Students from Windsor Ridge, who currently get bused to Longfellow, would continue to be bused but now would go to Hoover. Students from the Lakeside area would be pulled from the Wood attendance area and bused over to Lemme. And at the same time, the Lemme attendance area would be reduced dramatically and some its current students would be divided among Mann and Hoover (which makes geographic sense) as well as Twain and Wood (which would require driving them right past Lemme and Lucas).
District officials say that partitioning the current Lemme attendance area was necessary in order to address the demographic and building use criteria. Because Lemme is already over capacity, its boundaries needed to be contracted. And since the students from the east side of Scott Boulevard already were being bused to Lemme, they could just as easily get bused a little further to Mann, Hoover, Twain and Wood.
But the partitioning of Lemme seems to be a quick jamming of some final pieces into a puzzle that's otherwise fairly complete. Yes, "Scenario 2" utterly fails to balance out the single-digit free and reduced lunch rates among the student populations at Wickham and Shimek. But the plan does help balance out significantly the rates at Horn, Longfellow and Weber as it brings down the more than 50 percent rates at Hills, Kirkwood, Mann, Twain and Wood.
The elementary with the biggest change, of course, is Lincoln. Under Scenario 2, Lincoln's free and reduced lunch rate would shoot up an order of magnitude from about 4 percent to more than 40 percent. And its students would go on to South East and City rather than to Northwest and West.
We can understand how the Lincoln community would be concerned about such drastic changes to their neighborhood school. But because the new Lincoln area would be both contiguous and within close geographic proximity to the school, Lincoln would actually become a "neighborhood school" -- in the strictest sense of the term. If anything, the Lincoln portion of Scenario 2 demonstrates what happens when the four criteria work together well.
District officials emphasize that Scenario 2 is still open for comments and changes. But they also say that the scenario does the best job so far of balancing the board's four criteria. Although the committee may change some boundaries here and there, the committee's final two or three recommendations probably will rely on Scenario 2 as a basic template.
That's why it is important for all district families and other concerned citizens to take part in the public forums at 7 p.m. Thursday in Parkview Church, 15 Foster Road., and 7 p.m. Friday in the Amos Dean Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel, 210 S. Dubuque St. Please visit the district site, read the maps and proposals carefully and come ready to ask questions and provide comment.
If you can't attend the forums, you can still send your written comments to the district's designated e-mail account at email@example.com. (And please feel free to copy the e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org as well.)