IOWA CITY – Iowa City officials have some ideas on how the Iowa City school district should spend the up to $100 million it could access if voters give their approval in February. And they plan to make sure school officials hear them.
The City Council is to vote Dec. 18 on a resolution calling for a “shared vision” with the school district on building projects. Among other things, the resolution calls for two new Iowa City elementary schools and urges caution in building a new high school – a facility that likely would be outside of Iowa City.
The measure is related to the school district’s Feb. 5 special election seeking a new so-called revenue purpose statement. A new revenue purpose statement would allow the district to borrow ahead on sales tax revenue it receives to the tune of $100 million.
That money would be used to build new schools and construct additions and make renovations to existing schools.
School facilities is an issue rife with controversy in the district, which includes Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, University Heights and Hills. Many Iowa City parents and city officials say their schools, particularly those in the City High School boundary, have fallen behind as new buildings have gone up in North Liberty and Coralville.
The Iowa City resolution says the school district should bring all existing facilities up to the standards of recently built schools, two elementary schools should be built in Iowa City and if it’s determined a third comprehensive high school is needed, the district should ensure it does not harm the quality of the existing high schools.
Those are each hot-button issues in the district, but city officials said their intention is not to put Iowa City’s interests above those of other communities.
Mayor Matt Hayek, who in August sent the school board a letter on what he considered the declining physical conditions of Iowa City schools, said he’s pushing for fairness across the district. Coralville and North Liberty also have some older schools in need of renovations, he said, but by nature of Iowa City’s size and age, it has more, particularly on the east side.
“It goes to the issue of equity,” he said. “If you look at the historic capital spending, it is a lack of equitable spending.”
The Gazette reported in October that over the last 10 years the school district had spent nearly double on schools in the West High attendance zone than those feeding into City High. Much of the west-side money was for new schools in what has been the fastest-growing part of the district.
Iowa City Council member Susan Mims said people look at schools when deciding where to live and will choose the newer schools on the edges of the community over older neighborhoods. That hurts home values in those areas and can exacerbate socio-economic inequities between the schools, she said.
A former school board member, Mims said she would not see an action like the proposed resolution as meddling as long as it was not self-centered.
School district Superintendent Stephen Murley said the resolution aligned with many of the issues the district had identified. For example, he said there is a backlog of repair and renovation work in older schools. He’s also calling for two new elementary schools in eastern Iowa City – along with one in North Liberty and, eventually, a high school in the northwest part of the district.
Murley does not view the resolution as anything that should upset members of other communities in the district. North Liberty’s mayor sent the school board a letter earlier this year calling for a new high school in or near his town, and Murley said Coralville officials contact him regularly.“When I hear from municipal representatives and municipal administrators, they do tend to advocate for their constituents,” Murley said. “That’s their job.”