NORTH LIBERTY — Though the more than 30 parents assembled had various opinions on the route, they all shared one message for the Iowa City Community School Board during a Tuesday evening forum: “Do the right thing.”
The adults delivered a spontaneous chorus of the phrase in response to board member Sally Hoelscher during a One District Yes-sponsored event, held at North Central Junior Junior High School in North Liberty, regarding the district’s upcoming Revenue Purpose Statement vote. The Feb. 5 election asks voters to grant district administrators early access to as much as $100 million in sales tax dollars for building projects.
Though the pro-purpose statement group organized the event, it took only 20 minutes for conversation to shift to the much-maligned proposed diversity policy, which is set to face a final board vote. The plan calls to even out disparities between district schools’ populations of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches in hopes of improving student achievement. The diversity policy also calls for the district to utilize all of its junior high and high school space before building another secondary facility, a provision which has upset some parents, particularly ones in North Liberty who have long wanted to see the city get its own high school.
“It’s really a misnomer to call it a diversity policy,” said Bob Gillispie of Coralville. “It’s a redistricting policy at the high-school level.”
Hoelscher and fellow board member Tuyet Dorau both attended the Tuesday evening forum after colleagues Jeff McGinness and Sarah Swisher canceled. One potential reality of the diversity policy is having large numbers of students shift from building to building, something Dorau acknowledged. Parents voiced concerns about trusting the school board with a large sum of money without a firm plan in place for where students could end up. At one point all but one parent raised his or her hand in opposition to the policy.
“That gives us even more pause in wanting to give a blank check to the school board and that they’re going to use it properly and follow the plan,” Gillispie said.
Other parents also voiced a lack of faith in the school board, with one citing the “backroom” nature of how the diversity policy was written.
“I can stand up here and say, ‘You can trust me, you can trust me,’ but it won’t help you trust me,” Hoelscher replied.
Dorau urged parents in attendance to view the Revenue Purpose Statement and diversity policy as separate issues, allowing themselves to vote yes on Feb. 5 even if they oppose the proposed diversity plan.
Jessi Williams, a North Liberty resident and mother of a Penn Elementary School student, said she’s concerned that her support of the Revenue Purpose Statement will appear to be an implicit endorsement of the diversity policy.
“It’s just a terrible policy,” said Williams, who supported the statement until the diversity policy was announced. “I want to stand up on the highest building in North Liberty and say, ‘I’m voting yes but that doesn’t mean I support the policy or the four board members [who approved the policy during the first vote earlier this month].”
Jen Greer, a North Liberty parent who, like Williams, is a member of the North Corridor Parents group, is wavering on whether to vote yes come Feb. 5 because of the diversity policy.
“I’d like to help and vote for the Revenue Purpose Statement but I’m unclear as to what the board will do in the next five months,” she said. “I know [voting yes] is the right thing to do for the kids.”