By The Gazette Editorial Board
Some parents in the Iowa City school district are understandably angry about a proposal to cash in $32 million earmarked for a third high school and use the money to build elementary schools instead.
At the same time, board members have a responsibility to use tax money wisely. If it’s clear that the need for a third high school is being outpaced by other, more pressing, projects, the board is wise to address those needs first.
Regardless, the proposed change in direction should not have come as such a surprise to the district’s families. It’s time for the Iowa City school board to set a clearer path on what to do with the school infrastructure local-option sales tax money that’s been building in reserve.
The question of how to deal with growth on the district’s north and west sides, and how to relieve overcrowding at West High has generated heated discussion for years. The third high school was a major part of the campaign to pass the SILO in the first place.
After voters approved the SILO in 2007, school board members adopted a policy setting aside $3.2 million collected by the tax each year to go toward the construction of a new high school in order to alleviate some of those concerns.
But recently, a majority of school board members said they prefer to use that money to meet growing needs at the elementary level.
The school board’s Governance Committee discussed the idea last week and decided to forward it back to the full board.
We don’t doubt they have in mind the best interests of the district overall, but we sympathize with parents who feel blindsided by the proposal. Even school board member Patti Fields reportedly sent an email to board members last weekend voicing her concerns that the issue was included on the committee’s agenda with “little to no transparency and with only the bare minimum of legally required public notice.”
The school board can legally change its collective mind about the high school reserve funds; the ballot initiative’s language didn’t lock school leaders into any one plan.
But that doesn’t change the fact that many voters who cast “yes” ballots in 2007 did so with the understanding that a third high school was a top priority. They deserve an explanation, and a chance to speak. And board members must make a strong case to the district’s taxpayers and parents before changing their course.
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