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ICCSD board rejects attendance zone maps; sets tenuous timeline

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) Board of Directors discussed administration recommendations on attendance zone maps at their May 27 work session.
They didn’t like what they saw.
After almost two hours of discussion, the board directed Superintendent Steve Murley to return June 10 with clarifying information, after which his team would re-draw the maps. They delayed re-districting for secondary school attendance zones until the elementary schools were determined and matriculation could be gauged.
The board was unwilling to scrap the work done in community engagement sessions and by administration, but, in light of more than 5,000 public participants, compliance with the board’s diversity policy proved difficult.
School Board President Sally Hoelscher invited Superintendent Steve Murley to describe his recommendations for elementary schools.
“We struggled as a community to develop attendance zones that complied with the diversity policy in cluster two,” said Murley. “The community was successful in developing maps and did so with cluster one.” Cluster one includes the North Liberty elementary schools.
“The mandates were the underlying guiding principles ensuring that we were compliant with the diversity policy,” Murley added.
Director Jeff McGinness questioned the idea that the diversity policy combined with community input would be the only drivers of re-mapping attendance zones. He indicated there was a need for flexibility in drawing the maps, a sentiment echoed by other board members. “The district needs policy that is executable,” added Director Chris Lynch.
“Now it has come to the board and now the board is providing direction,” said Director Patti Fields. “So in that sense, I feel like it is the board’s responsibility to have an engagement with the community and to give that feedback.”
Fields indicated the board had a responsibility to develop a workable solution to attendance zone mapping using administration recommendations, and to seek its own community engagement.
Director Tuyet Dorau then initiated a discussion of logistics of the board’s decision-making process.
“We need to be very deliberative, transparent and communicative with the community as to how this process is going to move forward,” Dorau said.
The board developed a tentative schedule for review and approval of elementary school attendance zones that included administration returning to the board at the first June meeting to ask clarifying questions, and hopefully receive answers.
Once any issues are resolved, administration will then develop new maps and present them to the school board at its first meeting in July. This schedule assumes maps can be prepared in time to be distributed with board meeting packets. Following a discussion, there will be a give-and-take with administration on creating approved maps. Once approved, the school board will schedule community engagement session(s) to present the maps to the public.
This board-driven community engagement is planned for August with a forum at either the second board meeting that month, or the first one in September.
Despite good intentions, the logistics schedule seemed tenuous as it was linked to a number of decisions and events, the outcomes of which were uncertain.
The board determined it was not feasible to determine the junior high and secondary school attendance zones until the elementary zones were finalized.
“Secondary is a challenge for us,” said Murley. “The big challenge that was brought to us from the community that participated was the concern that not knowing what the elementary attendance zone looked like makes it very hard to balance the junior high.” They saw that as a struggle to balance those, he added.
“And then the high school was further complicated by discussion of whether there would be two high schools or three high schools,” Murley said.
There is a lot of work to be done before the ICCSD is ready to finalize attendance zone maps.
The next meeting of the ICCSD school board is on Tuesday, June 10.