To hear Iowa City school board candidates tell it, whoever is elected next month will have to repair divisions in the community over school issues.
“The way to restore a sense of honesty and fairness in this community is to be honest and fair,” said Gregg Geerdes, who chastised district leaders over what he characterized as misrepresentations in the decision a few years ago to close Roosevelt Elementary and this past winter’s revenue purpose statement election.
Divisiveness and mistrust of the school board and central-office administrators have been campaign issues leading up to the Sept. 10 school election, where three of the board’s seven seats are up for grabs.
Nine candidates answered questions for two hours Thursday night at a forum hosted by the Districtwide Parents’ Organization and The Gazette. It was shown live on Mediacom Channel 21 and will be replayed.
The candidates are incumbents Karla Cook and Tuyet Dorau and challengers Brian Kirschling, Chris Lynch, Jason Lewis, Jim Tate, Sara Barron, Phil Hemingway and Geerdes. Dorau and Lynch live in Coralville, while the others have Iowa City addresses.
Hemingway, who was a board candidate two years ago, also cited the revenue purpose statement and the school board’s decision this summer to eventually close Hoover Elementary when saying he could use the same closing remarks from a 2011 forum.
“Issues are the same: Transparency, neighborhood schools, financial solvency and accountability,” he said.
Kirschling, though, said the RPS, which gave the district the authority to borrow ahead on future revenue for construction projects, will provide an opportunity to restore confidence by following through on the commitment of that plan.
“Let people see tangible” progress, he said.
The two incumbents were not as critical of the district. Cook said while people have different opinions on educational policies, this is a community where education is universally valued.
“I think that’s where we need to start to make it a very cohesive community,” she said.
Dorau said the loudest voices make it seem like the community is deeply divided, but she hears a lot of unity in support of neighborhood schools, equity and other issues.
“There are so many more commonalities,” she said.
The idea of starting magnet schools also got attention at the forum, with all nine candidates supporting them in some form.
Lewis called for schools specializing in language immersion; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; writing and language arts and one with a year-round schedule. The community, home to the University of Iowa, has many experts who can lend a hand, he said.
“This is not rocket science,” he said. “We will not be reinventing the wheel.”
Tate said teachers should have the primary role in developing the programs.
“They should be the ones writing the curriculum and preparing those classes,” he said.
Barron, meanwhile, said magnet programs need to be available to all students and transportation should be provided so geography does not limit participation.
“So that we could really, truly be offering magnet programs equally to students throughout the district,” she said.
Lynch said the district needs to gauge the interest in certain programs, saying one of the best pieces of career advice he ever received was to follow his passion.
“I think if we let our kids follow their passions … education’s a whole lot easier,” he said.