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Factions lobby for support in bids for new ICCSD schools

IOWA CITY- Two groups are in the hunt for ICCSD facility funding.
Each group has started online petitions outlining their immediate priorities. One petition calls for a new elementary school on the east side of Iowa City, while supporters of the second petition last week lobbied their city council on April 10 for aid in convincing the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) to keep plans to build a high school in or close to North Liberty.
Over 1,000 signatures had been gathered in support of the new high school as of April 16.
Three North Liberty residents spoke in favor of a third high school at a city council work session on April 10.
North Liberty resident Jennifer Greer told the council that 321 students had open-enrolled out of ICCSD and into Clear Creek Amana, College Community (Prairie) and Solon. The money that goes with those students is $6,000 per student annually, a total of nearly $2 million dollars.
“The number is quite staggering,” said Greer. “We may regain these students we have lost, but only if we add that necessary high school.”
A north ICCSD high school would benefit the community, Greer said. “Our community needs glue to keep our neighborhoods together, and a high school could provide that.”
The online petition for a new high school includes a link to information about past promises by the board, including some of the campaign rhetoric before passage in 2007 of a School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) sales tax.
A previous high school task force committee recommended the district build a high school when a specific district-wide enrollment number was reached.
“Our group believes we are reaching the trigger points that the ICCSD said was necessary to move forward,” said Greer. “The North Corridor was promised a high school, and that was approximately six years ago when the SILO passed.”
However, Greer said, the district’s board has many new members now.
“In March, the school board had a meeting and decided instead of following the 6-1 vote to support the trigger points to start a new high school when we met them, now they decided they want to rethink that and not abide by that information,” Greer said. “They say it’s a brand new board. So we are not exactly clear what they are trying to do next but we’re worried.” Greer said discussions “encouraged two mega-high schools out of this process, and that’s the driving factor that is concerning all of us.”
North Liberty resident Marisa Keeney told the council she also is concerned that the board’s intention is moving away from a third comprehensive high school.
“If you watch the clip from the school board meeting, it’s pretty obvious that the discussion was swinging fairly heavily in the direction of ‘let’s look at if we seriously want to do this [consider a new high school].’ That’s why we feel it is imperative that we all get on board, before it’s too late to have a say,” Keeney said.
The petition seeking a third high school does not discount the need for an east side elementary. However, the petition favoring an east side elementary calls a new high school “a project that is at best debatable,” and suggests that the school’s trigger point for a new high school will not be met until 2017. The same petition also noted that since the one percent sales tax was passed, the schools have spent all SILO money on the west and north sides of the district.
The SILO sales tax is used to support school infrastructure improvements and community education, and has raised about $60 million since its passage by county voters.
SILO money will be spent on any new schools the district decides to build. ICCSD communications director Kate Moreland said the district will continue to gather demographics data on redistricting and review a recommendation from a new high school exploratory committee before making any decisions.
During the April 10 North Liberty work session, city councilor Gerry Kuhl spoke in favor of keeping North Liberty kids in North Liberty, and questioned how much busing should be allowed.
“I think there have to be some limits on busing,” Kuhl said, indicating a new North Corridor high school would shorten bus rides for local students. “I’d like to know the cost [of busing] and how it compares to building on to a facility.”
Keeney said the district has considered expanding both existing comprehensive high schools, but that would not solve all the problems of overcrowding.
“You can add on to West or City, sure, but you can’t make the hallways any bigger. You can’t make stairwells any bigger, and students are already waiting in line to go up and down the stairs. Kids can’t get to lockers, there isn’t enough time, so they carry their entire day’s stuff with them in a backpack, all day long,” Keeney said. “Those are going to be the problems people in North Liberty will be dealing with and deciding if that is right for [their families]. And there are a number of people already making the decision that it is not right for their family.”
Greer said the Coralville City Council held a meeting 18 months ago and appeared to support their efforts for a new high school.
“As North Liberty representatives, we need you to band together with members of the Coralville City Council,” Greer told the council. “Please support our involvement. We ask that you actively engage in that process.” Keeney also implored the council to “advocate for what you think is best for the community.”
Since the discussion was held in a work session, there was no formal vote on the council’s position, but Mayor Tom Salm offered a brief comment. “I think I can safely say everybody here is in favor of a high school in our region,” Salm said.” I think we all understand the importance and the need for that.”
Councilor Chris Hoffman asked to be kept abreast of the petitioners’ activities and updates, so that North Liberty City Council members would have opportunities to attend upcoming public forums or listening post discussions with district officials on facilities issues. The council also asked City Administrator Ryan Heiar and City Attorney Scott Peterson to draft a letter supporting a new North Corridor high school to consider at a future council meeting.
The Iowa City school district will host two community forums about the possible redistricting of existing elementary and junior high schools, decisions that could impact future high school plans. The first forum is Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m. at Van Allen Elementary in North Liberty, and the second is Thursday, April 19, at 7 p.m. at Grant Wood Elementary in Iowa City. The forums will discuss the district’s Draft B, a plan to shift some Wickham and Van Allen students from North Central to Northwest Junior High.
ICCSD assistant superintendent Ann Feldmann has said that, based on projections for kids coming down the pipeline, “We [ICCSD] can’t fit them all at North Central.”
Similar public forums on redistricting the high schools are still being planned.