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Iowa City School District's Latest Redistricting Plan Had Few Fans at Forum

The feedback was not terribly positive at the first of at least two forums on the district's proposed redistricting plan. The plan in its current form affects two junior highs, as well as several elementary schools in east Iowa City.

 

At the beginning of the first public forum after the Iowa City School District  announced a draft plan late last week, Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann addressed the audience sitting in City High School's Little Theatre, some of them watching from the balcony due to crowd overflow.

"We are all very very passionate about our kids, but let's try to keep our discussion purposeful," she told the crowd of more than 80 people in attendance. "We want to know what other ideas do you have for us, or whatever comments or concerns or positive thoughts you have for us."

There were certainly comments from the attendees, definitely a lot of concerns, and even a few ideas.

As for positive thoughts? Not really.

The crowd of concerned parents layed into the plan with critique after critique, questioning the district's overall vision, the historical lack of facilities improvements for east side schools, the timing of the planning, the chaos caused by redistricting, the district's transfer policy and even the very numbers that were the basis for the plan.

After several questions about numbers could only be answered by Feldmann and other administraters by them stating it was the best estimate that she and the committee could make at the time based on maximum potential enrollment for each attendance area, the parents became even more frustrated.

"I think people are feeling it's disingenuous because it's all very wish washy, and when you're called into account you don't have an answer for it," said crowd member Lori Kramer, a Longfellow parent.

The plan, developed by a committee made up of administrators and building principals from all the directly affected school buildings, in its first draft calls for changes to the following attendance areas:

  • 106 students to moved out of Grant Wood to Longfellow  (Dolphin Lake Pointe and Bon Aire)
  • 104 students out of Longfellow to Twain (Windsor Ridge and Redwing Estates)
  • 69 students out of Twain to Hills (Lake Ridge)

The PDF of the projected affects of this plan are attached to the document.

Feldmann said the committee has been charged by the school board to give a recommendation on elementary and junior high redistricting by May, and this recommendation first unveiled last Thursday will be potentially changed by public input. The board members will then be able to take whatever action they want regarding the committee's input.

The plan also called for the shifting of Wickham Elementary students from North Central to Northwest Junior high, but since the meeting was held at City High near many of the potentially affected elementary schools, the focus was primarily on the elementary level Thursday night.

There were a few suggested alternatives to the plan, but primarily the feeling in the room was just a sense of general disatisfaction and frustration with it.

Dan Shaw, another Longfellow parent, said that one of his concerns is the fact that district was looking at changing enrollment boundaries before learning the results of Iowa's quest to receive a federal waiver from No Child Left Behind. The waiver's fate likely won't be known by the school district until the summer.

Among many factors, No Child Left Behind's School in Need of Assistance designation for schools like Twain had led to transfers away from those schools. The end of this program and the resulting transfers, Shaw said, could have a big difference on the eventual populations.

"It really calls into the question the timeline to come to the conclusion by May," Shaw said.

Feldmann said since the fate of NCLB is uncertain, for planning purposes the district will just have to assume that the waiver will not be granted, even if it is likely that it will be.

Among all of this, there were a few that argued for some of the potential benefits of the plan, pointing out that studies have shown that lower income learners perform better when mixed with higher income students.

Jason T. Lewis, parent teacher organization president at Twain Elementary School, said that he and other Twain parents see the redistricting as good step toward improving Twain's 71 percent free-and-reduced lunch rate, a sign of low income students. According to plan projections this rate would be reduced down to 54 percent.

Lewis said that even though the audience members were frustrated and critiqued the plan heavily, he actually viewed the forum as an overall positive.

"From an administrative standpoint, it's really hard to please everyone," Lewis said. "At least this gives people the opportunity to air their concerns and get them adressed."

Lewis also took the opportunity to praise Twain for its high quality instruction.  He admitted that he had been sceptical at first to enrolling his child at Twain due to the school's SINA-inforced reputation of being a poor school, but he now feels his great personal experience with the school shows these rumors about Twain were false.

The next forum will be on March 21st at Northwest Jr High from 7:00-8:30pm.

Dan Shaw March 09, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Good job in accurately capturing such a complex and lengthy event, Stephen. It seems like the Board and District's rush to come up with an approved plan by May 1 leaves this process vulnerable on a few counts: 1. As mentioned before, Iowa will almost certainly be granted a NCLB waiver in May or June, which will end not just the designation of "SINA" schools but more importantly, could end the federal funding stream that pays for the busing of SINA transfer students all over the District. District officials last night would not commit to how they would deal with this change--whether the District would allow SINA transferred students to stay in their current school, whether the District would assume the cost of busing them, whether they could stay but have to arrange their own transportation. Until we are able to commit to how this policy shift will be addressed at the local level, you don;t have a prayer of knowing how many kids will be at each school in 2013. Or even next year in 2012. This redistricting committee's plan unrealistically relies on numbers that assume everyone will go to the elementary school in their home attendance area, even as they hint at the likelihood that they will continue to allow in-District transfers in some form. They don't really even believe that their own projection numbers will be accurate, which undermines the efficacy of the moves they are proposing. ....(cont)
Dan Shaw March 09, 2012 at 04:03 PM
...(cont) 2. The District has yet to elicit any publicly-known feedback from Dolphin Lake Pointe or Bon Aire parents indicating how they feel about having their kids bused away from the local neighborhood school they can walk to (Wood), to a school 2 miles away with a dissimilar socio-economic population (Longfellow). Asked what her plans were to solicit input from those parents before the next draft of this plan was released, Ann Feldman indicated there probably wouldn't be time to impact the next draft, but maybe a forum could be held at Wood Elementary near the end of the process. 3. The projections the redistricting committee used in making these plans are wildly off. They projected an increase of 89 students for the 2011 school year, but we actually added 444. So the projections these plans are based on are already 3 years behind--they were made last year, but projected that we wouldn't reach our current number of students until 2014. Can we trust those numbers as the basis for re-shuffling boundaries? They thought Longfellow would be at 317 this year, but it is actually at 343. This committee needs to wait for revised projections, which they said last night would not come out for another month. 4. There needs to be a new elementary school built on the far east side of town to accommodate overcrowding, rather than just shuffling kids around to balance FRL numbers. The real issue is capacity, not the quality of education in our excellent east side schools.
Julie VanDyke March 12, 2012 at 01:56 AM
If the district really wanted to know what people had to say, they'd hold a forum at each school affected by the plan.
Avril F March 13, 2012 at 05:16 AM
I agree that a forum should be held at each school. While I do think another school should be built on the east side I think some measures should be taken now to ease overcrowding. Even if the board voted today to build a new eastside school, it would be years away from being built. Should we do nothing in the meantime to ease overcrowding. While I am not sure what the right solution is, I do know that Wood has been overcrowded for a long time, an issue that has been all but ignored by the board.

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