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Rapid growth will fill new schools

Projected NL enrollment to surpass all IC, Coralville elementaries

By Janet Nolte
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– North Liberty residents shouldn’t be surprised by the Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD) latest enrollment projections, which predict rapid growth in the numbers of students at all levels in the Liberty High attendance zone.
Compiled by the Ohio-based planning firm DeJONG-RICHTER, the report reviewed by school board members at their Dec. 13 meeting estimates the number of students districtwide– currently 13,641– will increase by about 2,000 students over the next 10 years. The demographers based their analysis and predictions on data including live births, historical enrollment, census records and housing starts.
The highest growth rates are expected in the northern and southern portions of the district. Among elementary schools at the top of the list, Penn and Van Allen are poised to grow by 235 and 155 students, respectively.
Assuming the projections are accurate, North Central Junior High and Liberty High will see the most growth among the district’s junior and senior high attendance areas. North Central is forecast to grow by about 174 students over the next 10 years. Between 2017 and 2026, Liberty’s enrollment is expected to increase by 328 students.
As noted by board members Chris Liebig and Lori Roetlin, the new report is the second iteration of enrollment figures generated since last June that indicate potential overcrowding at Liberty High as early as 2019– three years before the addition slated for completion in 2022 increases the 1,000-seat capacity of the core building by 500. The current report estimates Liberty High’s 2019 enrollment at 1,077. Given that projection, Liebig and Roetlin expressed concern over the board’s current acceptance of voluntary transfer requests into Liberty for 2017-18.
“The enrollment reports that we have show that Liberty is supposed to be over capacity by 2019,” said Liebig. “I don’t understand why we would allow ninth-graders and 10th-graders to transfer in there next year.”
In response, board member Brian Kirschling pointed out that City High and West High, along with both junior highs, are currently over capacity.
“While we don’t like that, I think that the short term while we wait to put an addition onto Liberty is insignificant compared to what our students have been dealing with for a very long time,” he said.
The ensuing discussion revisited the board’s prior deliberations over criteria for accepting voluntary transfer requests from students within the district based on building capacity. Liebig made a motion, seconded by Roetlin, to close transfers of ninth-graders into Liberty High, with the exception of hardship cases. The motion carried in a 4-3 vote, with Liebig, Roetlin, Phil Hemingway and Paul Roesler voting in favor. Kirschling, President Chris Lynch and Vice President LaTasha DeLoach opposed the measure.
The board routinely considers and grants voluntary transfers at its discretion, subject to current and future capacity constraints. But next year’s voluntary transfer request process comes with a new wrinkle: a “capstone rule” designed to ease the transition for those students whose progression through their junior and senior high school years would be greatly disrupted as the district implements the new attendance zones.
When the new attendance boundaries take effect next year, students in the eighth, 11th and 12th grades who are impacted by changes will be allowed to exercise the “capstone rule” if they so choose. Eighth graders residing in the North Central-Liberty attendance zone may remain at the junior high where they attended seventh grade for the 2017-18 school year. Similarly, 11th- and 12th-graders may opt to finish out high school where they have started. After all capstone requests have been accommodated, the board may consider voluntary transfer requests following past practice.
At the Dec. 13, school board meeting, ICCSD Superintendent Stephen Murley reported that so far 18 of 54 eligible eighth grade students submitted capstone requests to remain at Northwest rather than transition over to North Central. This cohort of students will be assigned to begin high school at Liberty in 2018-19 no matter which junior high they attend.
At the high school level, 82 11th-graders and 132 12th-graders submitted requests to stay at West High rather than attend Liberty when it opens next fall. Nine juniors and eight seniors opted to remain at City High rather than move to Liberty in 2017-18.
Unless they can demonstrate hardship or an exceptional reason to transfer to another school, ninth- and 10th-graders will be expected to attend Liberty High in 2017-18 if they are assigned there. To incentivize students to remain at their “home” schools and optimize building capacity, the district further discourages ninth- and 10th-graders from requesting a voluntary transfer during the first year the new school opens.
During the meeting, board member Roetlin asked the superintendent and board to clarify “exceptions” and put into writing what constitutes “hardship” with respect to transfer requests.