Parents, Faculty Debate Merit of Iowa City School Redistricting Plan at Forum Thursday Night

Feelings were mixed on redistricting at the latest Iowa City redistricting forum held at Grant Wood Elementary School.

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.

Julie VanDyke April 20, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Um, Stephen, I spoke "from Hills Elementary".
Stephen Schmidt April 20, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Indeed you did. You were one of the "few parents" I was referring to in that statement. How could I amend it to be better?
Cynthia Gillham April 20, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Again, it all comes down to who would benefit the most from these redistricting plans? What is a school system really all about? I would hope that is about providing the best education we can for ANY and ALL students, regardless of their socio-economic status and where they live. I hope the school board will do what is best for the STUDENTS.
Julie VanDyke April 20, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Eh, Stephen, I think it's fine...just sayin...I'm one ;-)
Julie VanDyke April 20, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Stephen, I think the main reason you're not hearing from Hills and Twain parents is that we've been waiting a long time for the district to do the "right thing" by our schools. We've been outspoken about our concerns and issues the last two rounds of redistricting. In this round, in this plan, both versions, are finally addressing our concerns and the inequities so we may likely have less to say because we're in favor of what the district is doing for our schools. The district, assistant superintendents, committee members, and superintendent know this so, for me at least, I feel better about the other folks having more of a chance to voice their concerns and recommendations.
Stephen Schmidt April 20, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Good to note. It'd be great to hear from other Twain or Hills parents or faculty if they have anything else to add here.
Brent Bormann April 21, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Some additional comments. My comment on the "convenience" of moving Windsor Ridge students is not about our location but about the weak justification for moving our kids. The justification being used is that they're already being bussed. This situation will be sustained in the new "plan" meaning that the same weak justification will be available when this process happens again. The process will happen again in the near future as we're not creating any capacity at all with this plan and the plan is not currently attached to any plan to create the capacity that will certainly be needed. I am grudgingly willing to move my kids from a wonderful school environment at Longfellow but feel that, as taxpayers, we all deserve to understand how the plan actually addresses the problem. The committee's recommendation doesn't accomplish that objective and, amazingly, isn't even asked to accomplish it. It is a bad stopgap plan with minimal gains and a great deal of unnecessary movement. Finally, it was unpopular to speak for Windsor Ridge and its children/students at last night's meeting as the tone painted us as purely self-serving. Yet it was an expectation that we address the needs of "all of the children in the district". This is very inconsistent. This plan has Windsor Ridge not being served, but allocated to meet criteria loosely tied to educational quality. A real, long-term plan that addresses this issue along with those being discussed today will be better received.
Julie VanDyke April 21, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Stephen, you should contact the Hills PTO President...I'm sure she would be happy to speak with you and could communicate your request for opinions from Hills parents.
Julie VanDyke April 21, 2012 at 04:23 AM
A long term plan and the current redistricting are 2 separate tasks the board is working on via the administration initially. The last time they tried elementary, jr high, and high school planning at 1 time was the RSP fiasco 3 years ago. What they discovered is that we are all unable to make decisions on too many pieces at a once because almost every "neighborhood" in the district wants what's best for themselves more than they can agree on feasible long term plan. Only the board can direct and, more importantly, vote to enact long OR short term decisions. The current redistricting is their best attempt to find any possible short term solutions. New schools take 2-3 years to approve and build. They are visibly working on the long term plan both at an existing facilities level and towards a choice on building new elementary buildings or additions on both "sides" of the district. It's not like there's a lot else they could do right now - the new capacity (schools or additions) cannot be built quickly enough to avert the impending overcrowding at some schools on the East side in particular. Whoever they end up moving, they must do it to maximize space and seats that exist now. The Penn situation is inexcusable-the only thing they could even do in time to fix the overflow of students this fall is haul in temporaries &/or move out special ed classes to streamline them into a smaller number of schools on the West side as they are currently doing on the East side.
Michelle Cook April 21, 2012 at 10:37 PM
The current plan won't be in effect for 2 years- a new school more effectively meets all of the needs of the east side and prevents instability and multiple disruptions. It can be done in 3 years- 1 year difference is worth the pay-off.
Julie VanDyke April 21, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Michelle, I'm hoping your math skills are just really poor and you are not stretching the truth due to the certainty you expressed at Twain last week when you said Longfellow would be unable to provide adequate support to the children proposed to attend it (apparently under any circumstances). These plans are clearly labeled to start Fall 2013-14 (that means August 2013). The standard ICCSD lead time for enrollment area changes is 1 year. A new school will take 2-3 years to be ready from the time of the board vote to approve it. No math makes that soon enough to avoid Fall 2013 redistricting. I disagree with you that Longfellow cannot educate more children of lower socioeconomic status, particularly since we have an "extra" 1.5 million that can ONLY be spent on Family Resource Center support that Bobek and Plugge inadvertently "created" by their "rape" of the district General Fund. Supports follow student moves in many possible ways. An increase in FRL at Longfellow would require it, particularly in a move as visible as the elementary redistricting proposals. Everyone's eyes are on Longfellow after the excellent fight they won to get the district to go over allowable spending this year. While it didn't happen quickly enough, the Longfellow parents, teachers, administrators, kids, families, supporters, and neighborhoods moved mountains to accomplish a brave, unprecedented choice on the part of district (even without support from two particular directors).
Renae McKay April 22, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Julie- the administration repeatedly has told us that with the redistricting proposal, Longfellow would not receive Title 1 funding for reading and math teachers or a Family Resource Center and its services. We do not have a FRC and our guidance counselor is .5 FTE. My understanding is that generally speaking, FRL students, as a group, have a higher need for these services. That, and the likelyhood that Longfellow would be more than 20 students over capacity concerns me.
Renae McKay April 22, 2012 at 03:49 PM
On another note, from a parent's perspective, the assignment of the shelter house students to Longfellow has been great. My only concern is with the school assignment of the younger pre-school siblings which may result in splitting siblings between 2 elementary schools. For example- a family lives at shelter house, so students attend Longfellow. If the family finds permanent housing- likely in the Twain or Wood district- the siblings enrolled at Longfellow have the option to stay there, with busing, through 6th grade. I like that component of stability. However, once their pre-school siblings reach school age, the younger siblings are required to go to school in their attendance zone, or apply for a transfer to Longfellow with no guarantee of approval. I talked to a mom Friday night who has 2 children at Longfellow and loves it. However, she recently moved from the shelter house to an apartment in Twain district and has been told her incoming kindergartener will have to go to a different school from his older siblings. It doesn't make sense to split up a family like this. I think all the siblings should be able to go to Longfellow, surely there is one open seat on the bus, probably more.
Sara Barron April 24, 2012 at 02:04 PM
I disagree that the tone of the meeting was hostile to Windsor Ridge parents. But I do agree with Brent that children and families who are affected by this round of redistricting should be given some guarantee that they will not be uprooted again if another round of redistricting is required.


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