By The Gazette Editorial Board
Debate over a proposed diversity policy in the Iowa City school district has stirred up timeworn district rivalries and long-held mistrust of school board priorities.
We could have predicted that much.
The ensuing drama has all but overshadowed a critical Feb. 5 referendum to approve a new district Revenue Purpose Statement. Public discussions of that vote, which would allow the board to tap into projected sales tax revenues of up to $100 million in order to address the district’s pressing facilities needs, have become clouded by mudslinging.
Take this week’s forum about the referendum at North Central Junior Junior High School in North Liberty, where community members quickly were sidetracked from the issue at hand.
Most of the more than 30 parents who attended the forum wanted, instead, to talk about the district’s proposed diversity policy — one vote shy of board approval with the final reading scheduled for Feb. 5. The plan seeks to more evenly distribute among the district’s schools the enrollment of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
The parents were upset by a provision in that policy that also would require the district to use existing junior high and high school space before building new facilities. They voiced concerns about why that was included in the policy and what it might mean for fast-growing areas of the district.
Some said it made them question whether to vote to approve the unrelated Revenue Purpose Statement. They said they were unsure they could trust the school board to spend the funds.
It’s unfortunate that next month’s vote, which should be on its own merits, is being caught up in old arguments and hard feelings about enrollment issues.
Approving the Revenue Purpose Statement would allow the district to meet growing facilities needs. The diversity policy is an attempt to balance enrollments to give the district’s students the best possible education. It’s a different concern.
But if diversity policy controversy keeps mucking up the dialogue, the school board should table its discussion until after next month’s vote.
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