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CCA lays groundwork for boundary committee

OXFORD– Rob Schwarz was blunt.
“Not everybody will be happy,” said Schwartz. The owner of consulting firm RSP and Associates (RSP) was referring to upcoming elementary school attendance area boundary changes for the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) Community School District.
Schwarz and Dave Stoakes, an education planner for RSP, met with the school board of directors in a work session Tuesday, June 10, at Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) in Oxford to set the parameters and define the board’s priorities for the enrollment study committee, which is currently being assembled. This committee will meet five times and present recommendations for changing the attendance area boundaries to the board in September for implementation in the 2015-2016 school year.
Continued growth, particularly on the east side of the district, coupled with the opening of a fourth elementary in Tiffin in fall 2015, has necessitated the changes. RSP was hired by the board last month to conduct an enrollment analysis with a five-year forecast for each facility in the district, as well as to facilitate the boundary committee meetings and one public forum.
Schwarz told the board RSP has driven through most of the district looking at existing, new and proposed housing developments.
“We’ve met with the cities, to get a feel for how and where growth is occurring and anticipated,” he said. That growth, Schwarz reminded the board, will continue to drive up enrollment numbers and create a need for increased capacity to accommodate the students.
In order to deal with overcrowding at North Bend Elementary in North Liberty and CCE in Oxford, the board eliminated open enrollment to those buildings and pursued a $48 million bond issue, which voters approved in February, to build the fourth elementary, expand the middle and high schools in Tiffin and make improvements at Amana Elementary. The district broke ground on the new elementary site late last month.
Schwarz gave the board a brief overview of the process to determine the new boundaries, starting with determining the board’s priorities and defining the role of the committee. He promised a transparent process with all data from the enrollment study and committee decisions available to the community. He anticipated the new boundaries will be controversial, and will inevitably lead to challenges for some students and families.
Stoakes led the board through a series of questions, which enabled them to rank their priorities and craft what he called a “sandbox” for the committee to work within. At each decision point, the board members registered their selections via an electronic clicker in a method similar to one that will be used by committee members in their future discussions. Toward the end of the nearly 90-minute session, the following four priorities were identified:
1. Focusing on projected enrollment and building utilization. This included potentially under-filling a building to leave room for additional growth and a mandate that the board will not fill a building just for the sake of balancing enrollments. Also, board member Jim Seelman said, “It’s our job to make sure all of our buildings are successful,” indicating the district will support all buildings and alleviating fears of Amana Elementary being closed.
2. A desire for contiguous borders, which means clear-cut lines across the district based on enrollment and not on factors such as socio-economic situations. Schwarz said RSP’s demographics study will not take into account students on the Free and Reduced Lunch program, such as the controversial plan proposed by the Iowa City Community School District to bus students around the district in an effort to bring more diversity to various school buildings.
3. Duration of boundaries; striving to keep the new boundaries in place as long as possible to provide a sense of stability. However, another elementary might need to be built within the next five years. The site in Tiffin is large enough to accommodate two more schools, a move Superintendent Tim Kuehl called a wise decision on the board’s part. If additional schools are built, boundaries would need to shift again.
4, Keeping neighborhoods intact. The board made it clear they wanted to keep neighborhoods together and avoid, for example, a boundary going down the middle of a street. Board president Steve Swenka said during the campaign for the bond issue, the board and supporters pushed the idea of neighborhood schools, and he felt the voters responded. “We don’t want to bend that trust,” Swenka said.
“We do not want to go down a path (with the committee) that contradicts what the board told the voters,” Stoakes agreed.
After after listening to the board members, Schwarz assured them they will get a plan they will like. “I think you will be very pleased with that criteria (of top priorities.) What you picked fits with what you feel the district values,” Schwarz said.
A committee of five community members to be nominated by the school board and administration will have its first meeting on Thursday, June 26. Additional meetings are scheduled for July 10, July 24, and Aug. 7. A public input meeting is set for Saturday, Aug. 26, with the final committee meeting slated for Monday, Sept. 4. The meetings will be held in the Clear Creek Amana High School library with a 6 p.m. start time. Schwarz told the board the meetings generally should not last longer than 90-minutes with set agendas and goals for each meeting. While all of the meetings are open to the public, other than at the public input meeting in August, only committee members will be allowed to participate.
The board will tentatively receive the committee’s recommendation or recommendations at a work session on Wednesday, Sept. 10, and adopt a plan the following week. The goal is to thoroughly inform families almost a year ahead of the changes.
“You’re taking the traditions and experiences people have had with these buildings and making changes,” Schwarz said. “This is a major decision.”