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Redistricting could tilt enrollment

IOWA CITY– The vision of a fourth Iowa City high school was dimmed last week when the school board expressed a desire to explore whether redistricting the existing high schools could solve an enrollment imbalance between the two comprehensive high schools in the district, City and West.
The school board asked for options besides a third comprehensive high school and pushed for the fourth high school overall to be considered a long-range project, inserting a 2012 study committee into the district’s facilities plans.
The new high school redistricting committee, similar to the current elementary and junior high redistricting committee, will examine ways to redirect the stream of students to fit current space at the high schools.
The new study group came out of discussion at the March 6 Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board meeting.
Current plans for elementary school maps and a junior high boundary shift were discussed on March 8, at City High. Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldman answered questions and facilitated discussion of the attendance zones with over 120 attendees.
The elementary school first draft has students shifting from Wood to Longfellow; Longfellow to Twain; and Twain to Hills. The junior high draft plan would move all Wickham students from overcrowded North Central to Northwest Junior High.
Both plans, plus the possible high school change, would take effect in the 2013-2014 academic year.
Space issues are a growing concern. Last year ICCSD added 440 students, about the student population of an elementary school, but the new pupils were scattered among every grade.
Assistant Superintendent Becky Furlong explained that adding an elementary school or high school wasn’t going to solve the student population increase.
Another meeting on junior high and elementary boundaries is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, from 7 until 8:30 p.m. in the Northwest Junior High theatre room.
The committee examining a fourth high school has already toured several high schools around the state, including in Ankeny and Clear Creek-Amana. They will compile their findings this summer and present first to the superintendent, who will decide whether to put it before the board for a recommendation. The report will cover the size, cost, course offerings, extracurricular programs and other details of a 900-student high school.
According to Superintendent Steve Murley, the committee will help the board figuratively build a 900-student capacity high school and help them make a decision about how, where and when to build it.
Board member Jeff McGuiness asked if the board could expand the scope of the fourth high school committee. “The important thing is that nobody’s education is negated by too small of a school,” McGuiness said, but asked why the fourth high school committee was taking such a narrow focus for addressing growth in the school system by building a new school.
Board member Karla Cook said she knew of no other city in the state with three high schools of such varied sizes as City (capacity 1,600), West (1,800) and the possible 900-seat high school.
Murley said he’d given the committee its direction on the issue and protected his staff’s time in the process. The fourth high school committee will continue on its course and Murley set a new leadership team to the task of a redistricting plan for the high schools on a summer to fall 2012 schedule.
A planned Johnson County Regional Academy (JCRA) could ease some of the district’s high school numbers.
A collaboration between area schools and Grant Wood Area Education Agency, Kirkwood Community College, and the University of Iowa, the JCRA will be completed in 2014 but the number of seats available for area high schools at the JCRA, which will offer career-focused and college credit courses, has not been determined.
The board heard a presentation on the JCRA from Kirkwood’s dean of regional and county centers, Christie Black. The new facility will be built at the university’s Oakdale campus in Coralville.