Iowa City schools to de-emphasize diversity policy in redistricting

School board pushes back vote on new boundaries

By Gregg Hennigan, The Gazette
Published: May 28 2014 | 9:10 am in Education Policy, Education Rotator, Front Rotator, Iowa City Schools, K-12 Education, Public schools,

IOWA CITY — Administrators in the Iowa City Community School District will make another attempt at drawing new elementary school boundaries, this time with less emphasis on the district’s controversial diversity policy.

School board members last night told Superintendent Stephen Murley that they want him to bring back new recommendations for boundary maps using unspecified measures he and his administrative team believe would have the best educational outcome for students.

That’s a change from a process that started three months ago that required the diversity policy, which seeks better socioeconomic balance between schools, to be the guiding principle for what is known as redistricting.

The result was a recommendation from Murley that would move 1,400 elementary school students to new schools in fall 2015. In some cases, students who lived within sight of their schools would have been moved.

“There has to be some flexibility in some of these pieces,” board member Patti Fields said of the guidelines Murley was given.

The board did not make any changes to the diversity policy, but there was talk from some members of making it something to aspire to rather than a rigid mandate. That is, achieving better socioeconomic balance would be a goal, but the specific requirements laid out in the diversity policy perhaps would not have to be met.

The school board adopted the policy by a 4-3 vote last year amid intense debate in the community. It requires schools to be within a certain percentage of each other in terms of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, which is a measure of poverty.

Murley said it was a struggle to develop school boundaries that comply with the diversity policy. Under his recommendation, which he characterized as the community’s maps resulting from public input, a few schools would not meet the policy’s directives.

“There are urban planning challenges along with math, the math just does not work,” board member Chris Lynch said.

Board members asked Murley to have new maps at its first meeting in July, said a community forum would occur later in the summer and a vote could be held in early September.

In addition to feedback from parents, Murley and some board members said they’ve heard from teachers concerned about starting over in building relationships with students and parents and moving students away from their support systems.

“With all that said, we can’t get that (socioeconomic) balance without moving some of the students,” Murley said.

With the delay in addressing elementary school boundaries, the school board said there would not be redistricting for junior and senior high schools in 2015. In addition to the diversity policy, the district plans to redraw school boundaries as new schools and building additions come online in the next several years to deal with growing enrollment.


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