Four redistricting forums done and the majority of the feedback the Iowa City School District redistricting committee has received hasn't been focused on how the current redistricting proposals could be made better. It has been focused on whether or not redistricting should be done at all.
Or at least, whether or not it should be done right away.
Thursday night's redistricting forum hosted at was no different. Many of the parents from Longfellow Elementary School at the first forum at City High School spoke against the plan again Thursday night. And several of the teachers from Grant Wood who were in attendance at Northwest Junior High School cheered as Wood parents and faculty spoke in support of it.
The forum was intended to gather input on the second draft for elementary and junior high school boundaries unveiled last week by the district, but since the forum was held in an elementary school on the potentially affected east side, and since the changes to the elementary plan changes , the discussion primarily centered on the four-way enrollment swap between Longfellow, Twain, Hills and Wood elementary schools:
1. 91 students out of Wood to Longfellow (Living along Taylor, Davis, and Bancroft)
2. 104 students out of Longfellow to Twain (Windsor Ridge and Redwing Estates)
3. 69 students out of Twain to Hills (Lake Ridge)
This swap was intended to fill space at Hills and Twain, address overcrowding at Wood (currently 84 students over the building's capacity), and mitigate the harmfully high free and reduced lunch rates at Wood and Twain. The move could potentially drop Wood to seven students under capacity, and lower Twain and Wood's free and reduced lunch rates from 71.1 and 65.7 percent to 54 and 61.1 percent respectively.
It should be noted that few parents spoke from either Hills or Twain Elementary Schools during the evening, although parents from those schools have spoken in favor of redistricting at previous forums.
Longfellow Wants Long-Term Planning
Longfellow parents argued that this move would produce minimal gains in capacity or free and reduced lunch numbers for Wood, especially considering the amount of students who would be moved, and that this was especially true if the true student populations were considered and not projections based on areas of attendance.
Michelle Cook, a Longfellow Elementary parent, said that when calculating the numbers of students who actually go to the schools currently, such a move could put Longfellow slightly over capacity.
"It doesn't really make sense to address overcrowding at one school by causing overcrowding at another school," Cook argued.
Cook said it would be better wait until a new elementary school is built on the east side and to redistrict then, as this would provide lasting solutions to capacity and free and reduced lunch rate problems. However, this east side elementary is only a hypothetical entity at the moment, as the school board only recently has begun seriously entertaining the idea.
Longfellow parents further argued that it would be difficult to determine school populations until the district's transfer policy is looked at, especially since the state could receive a waiver from the federal Schools in Need of Assistance transfers mandated by No Child Left Behind.
Brent Bormann, who has four kids at Longfellow, said he was frustrated that children from Windsor Ridge, due to its convenient location and economic status, could be moved several times if administrators deemed it necessary for redistricting.
He, like the parents at the Van Allen Elementary forum on Wednesday, urged the district to hold off and form a long-term plan before redistricting so he could be reassured his children wouldn't be moved several times.
"I don't want my kids to move, but if they are forced to move, I feel like it absolutely should be tied to a long-term plan," Bormann said.
Urgency at Wood: "Our kids can't wait three years for them to build a new school"
Katie Holland, a first-grade teacher at Wood Elementary School said while she could sympathize with Longfellow parents who want to wait, there are kids who are struggling right now who need help due the concentrated pockets of low income students at Twain and Wood.
"Our kids can't wait three years for them to build a new school," Holland said. "We cannot let our students fall behind."
Holland said that research has shown that schools with mixed income groups with free and reduced lunch rates closer to 50 percent have been shown to perform better than schools with rates at 70 percent or higher. She said that schools with such high free and reduced lunch rates still see their students struggle to improve, even when more money and resources are directed to the school.
Sara Barron, a Wood PTA member with two children at Wood Elementary, urged the redistricting committee to make decisions not based on parents arguing for the self-interest of their own children, but for what will benefit the children in the district as a whole-- to do the "right thing" regardless of whether or not it was a popular decision.
Barron said after the forum that considering the research showing the effect on performance, the right thing for the committee to do is to help lower the free and reduced lunch rates.
"If we have the opportunity to lower some of these free and reduced lunch rates, we should take it," Barron said.
The Next Step
Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann, again the emcee for the event, said before the meeting that committee of administrators working on redistricting will have to consider the feedback further before determining whether they will issue new redistricting drafts.
She said a new factor for the committee to consider is the school board's new willingness to consider new school buildings in North Liberty and in eastern Iowa City that could dramatically change their recommendations.
Regardless, the recommendation from the committee to the school board is due in May.
Superintendent Steve Murley told the crowd that after the committee makes its recommendation, he will work with the committee members to refine their recommendation before it is presented to the board. Among the options Murley said is on the table at this point is stepping back and waiting before redistricting.