One thing is certain for students attending the Iowa City Community School District in the next decade — attendance zones will change. But which children will be affected and how remains to be seen.
The district’s controversial diversity policy, which the school board voted in February to adopt to reduce gaps between buildings in the populations of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, is forming a proposed 10-year phasing plan for facilities upgrades.
“It’s necessary to ensure we comply with the diversity policy,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said. “We have to overlay what the diversity policy requires with what will transpire under the facilities master planning process.”
Murley presented a draft of the facilities plan to the board during an Oct. 22 work session. The proposal includes sending students at Lucas, Longfellow, Shimek, Mann and Lincoln elementary schools to Hoover Elementary School — which board members voted on July 23 to close at some point following the 2017-18 school year — for one school year each between fall 2016 and spring 2021 as those buildings individually undergo improvements.
To implement the diversity policy, administrators also plan to rezone attendance boundaries at the following elementary schools: Penn, Garner, Van Allen, Coralville Central, Kirkwood, Lincoln, Wickham, Wood, Twain, Longfellow, Lemme, Weber, Hills, Hoover, Shimek, Mann and Lucas between the 2014-15 and 2020-21 academic years.
Borlaug and Horn elementary schools as well as Tate High School, which houses an alternative secondary program for students who opt out of comprehensive high schools, are the only buildings with boundaries that will remain untouched under this version of the diversity plan.
The document calls for students at Longfellow and Lemme elementary schools to face rezoning three times, in 2015-16, 2018-19 and 2020-21. Longfellow learners also are set to spend an academic year at Hoover in 2017-18 while the Longfellow structure undergoes construction.
Boundaries at Coralville Central, Kirkwood, Wood, Twain, Weber, Hills and Hoover only will change once under the diversity policy, while the remaining elementary, junior high and high schools in the document will see their attendance areas redrawn twice.
Board member Tuyet Dorau voted against the diversity policy and said complying with it detracts from an otherwise “solid” facilities plan.
“The facilities plan in and of itself is pretty fabulous,” she said, citing the financial structuring and balanced attention to the north, east and west sides of the district. “I think it’s the diversity plan that’s mucking up the waters.”
Dorau expressed skepticism that the district would be able to get widespread buy-in from parents who will have to send their students to different schools as a result of the policy.
“I think it will be extremely difficult,” she said. “I don’t people really thought through the impact of the diversity policy.”
Dorau favors programmatic changes to ensure equity as opposed to the diversity policy’s numbers-driven approach.
“I think one of the things we need to look at is, Are we doing things that are educationally sound or are we doing things to shuffle some numbers around?,” she said, taking issue with the idea that education will improve simply by introducing a new population into a building.
“How are a bunch of rich white kids going to help a bunch of minority kids learn? … At least to me, as a minority, that’s really offensive.”
Residents already have voiced concerns about students having to shuffle between schools. Following the Oct. 22 workshop, district parent Jen Greer called some of the redistricting unnecessary.
“I hope we understand it better,” she said about the future of the facilities plan.
Murley said input has been “pretty positive,” while Dorau said residents on the district’s east and west sides are “very concerned” about the multiple moves to re-draw attendance areas — and the superintendent lent support.
“I would agree with their concern that obviously the fewer times that we rezone, the less disruption there is for individual students or schools, and that would likely be a best practice from that standpoint,” Murley said. “So I would concur with their concerns.”
Much is still uncertain at this point in regard to how the district will facilitate the rezoning plans and its consequences, such as what Murley called the potential dilution of Title I dollars — which the federal government allocates to schools based on their populations of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches — and the effects on transportation as boundaries change.
“We have not done that yet because we haven’t established what those new boundaries would be,” Murley said.
Just because a school’s attendance zone changes doesn’t necessarily mean that all students will be sent to new buildings. The superintendent said administrators are planning to more precisely determine which areas will be affected by the rezoning at the start of the new calendar year.
Administrators already are discussing changes to the current draft of the phased facilities plan, and school board members are set to see a new draft during a Tuesday, Nov. 12 meeting.
That does not mean, however, that the board will vote on whether to adopt the plan at that time.
“That was the first time we saw those drafts,” Dorau said of the Oct. 22 work session. “If the same thing happens on Nov. 12, there’s no way I can vote on it right then and there.”