IOWA CITY — Iowa City’s mayor says he thinks the Iowa City school district is no longer focused on its namesake hometown.
In a letter to the Iowa City school board dated Aug. 15, Mayor Matt Hayek argues school facilities have been in a steady decline in recent decades.
Hayek notes the district has not built any new schools that feed into City High School since 1969. He also notes the district only has built one new school in Iowa City since 1993. In that same time frame, the district has opened new schools in North Liberty and Coralville, and closed Roosevelt Elementary in Iowa City. The new Norman Borlaug Elementary School opened Thursday just inside the Coralville city limits, but it will serve mostly Iowa City residents on the west side of town.
“As the largest population center in the district, Iowa City residents contribute a proportionately larger share of the property and sales taxes going to the district, yet in recent years only a fraction of the district’s capital dollars has been invested in Iowa City schools,” Hayek writes.
Hayek’s letter emphasizes the importance the City Council has placed on its established neighborhoods. But he argues without strong investment in neighborhood schools, “attracting families and reinvestment to the core of our community becomes difficult.”
“We are mindful that the district and the city represent separate public entities with independent charges,” Hayek writes. “However, our fates are linked: a school’s impact on its neighborhood is arguably as significant as a neighborhood’s impact on its school.”
Hayek also argues the school district’s investment could help offset socioeconomic factors now dividing Iowa City, with lower-income households largely clustered on the city’s east side.
“Equally maintaining facilities regardless of socioeconomic difference will help to ensure balance throughout the school district,” Haykek writes.
Hayek’s letter comes as the Iowa City school district debates building a third high school, most likely in the North Liberty area. Hayek agrees that capacity is an issue, but urges the district to consider alternatives, given the extreme cost of building a third high school. Hayek says he believes the “significant enrollment imbalance” between City High and West High can be addressed in the meantime.
Last school year, West High, which has a capacity of 1,800 students, had an enrollment of 1,910, while City High had an enrollment of 1,393, below its capacity of 1,600 students.