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Tiffin’s Deer View residents confront CCA school board

Pushback abounds on new elementary’s boundary lines
A crowd of concerned patrons of the Clear Creek Amana school district gathered for the school board meeting Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Clear Creek Elementary in Oxford to express their displeasure at new elementary school attendance areas, and separating the Deer View subdivision in Tiffin from the new elementary under construction in Tiffin. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

OXFORD– When the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) school district began the process of creating new elementary school attendance areas, the district’s consulting firm assisting in the effort stated a hard and cold fact: once the process was complete, somebody would be unhappy with the result.
The consultants reiterated the point at every attendance and boundary study committee meeting, the public input meeting, the school board work session in September when Superintendent Tim Kuehl made his recommendation, and at the regular board meeting a week later when the plan was approved.
Before the board voted 5-2 to accept the plan, with members Steve Swenka, Jim Seelman, Eileen Schmidt, Kevin Kinney and Bob Broghammer in support and members Terry Hergert and Rick Davis voting against it, Kuehl reminded them again.
“No matter what you decide there’s going to be people happy and people unhappy. I don’t want to make anybody unhappy anymore than the rest of you do. But ultimately we have to think from a district standpoint,” Kuehl said.
The prediction was validated at the board’s monthly meeting Oct. 15, when a group of parents from the Deer View subdivision made it clear to Kuehl and the board that they were, in fact, unhappy.
Deer View is just north of the high school in Tiffin, and is currently not connected to other neighborhoods in the community by street access. Across Deer View Avenue, another subdivision is in the early stages of construction. Across Highway 6 and on the west side of the high school, Prairie West subdivision has been planned and approved. The 2015-2016 elementary school attendance boundary plan sends children from all three subdivisions to Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) in Oxford, where Deer View kids currently attend.
However, Deer View residents told the board they believed their kids would go to the new elementary school, which is under construction on the east side of Tiffin at the intersection of Highway 6 and Park Road (formerly Jasper Avenue). They urged the board to reconsider the decision, challenged Kuehl’s rationale for recommending the split, threatened board members with replacement in their next elections and pointed to a petition with more than 280 signatures from across the district.
“I was excited to see the forward thinking,” said Jan Thomas, a Tiffin resident and supporter of the Deer View families. “I cannot convey to you, however, the disappointment we have felt (in excluding the subdivision).” Thomas said she and others felt misled after having supported the bond issue, which authorized and funded the new school. The board’s decision, she said, leads to mistrust and “builds a lack of confidence in our community leaders.”
Diana Kremzar, a Deer View resident, echoed Thomas’ assertion that supporters of the bond feel misled in the wake of the decision. “I am confident that our neighborhood, and others, would not have supported it if we had known the children in select neighborhoods would be excluded,” Kremzar said. “The message this sends to Tiffin as a whole is one of distrust in the school board.”
Kremzar said the decision to send the small number of students to Oxford made no sense to her and cited negative impacts on families and the community. For example, she said, her family would now have to shell out an additional $1,500 to $1,800 per year per child for private before-and-after-school childcare (BASP), “because we will not be able to just drop them off on the way to work and utilize the (CCA) BASP,” she said.
Kremzar also took issue with Deer View being grouped with developments that have no residents yet. “We’re not future residents, we’re current residents, and we’re here and we’re not going to sit idly by and just let the board continue to ignore the desires and demands of the existing community.”
Kremzar’s husband Alan said he felt there was a lack of publicity or announcements from the enrollment and boundary study committee, and, misinformation on the part of the district regarding the new school. Alan Kremzar said he and others attended the public input meeting held at the high school, and voiced their opinions, “which we were promised would be heard.” Alan Kremzar said he also attended a committee meeting a week later.
“To my surprise the committee was very aware of the public’s negative view of splitting existing Tiffin residents into two schools,” said Alan Kremzar. He called the decision a slap in the face to existing residents and called into question the safety of bussing students from Tiffin to Oxford on “a 55 mph twisty road, especially in wintertime when they could bus them two miles to the east, at slower speeds.” Alan Kremzar called the boundary plan to exclude Deer View from the new school “ridiculous,” and threatened to open enroll into the Iowa City Community School District once his child is old enough to attend.
Comments from Tiffin resident Key Kain centered around what he called a divisive decision. “That’s why all these people are here,” Kain said. “Tiffin is a community. Deer View is a community.” He expressed offense at the subdivision being lumped in with the dirt piles and cornfields to the west of Deer View, subdivisions still in progress.
Kain cited comments from Kevin Kinney, Steve Swenka and Eileen Schmidt from their various election campaigns that he felt were contradicted by their votes for the new boundaries. “Your decision turned your backs on the community you represent,” Kain said.
Jason Timmerman, also of Deer View, told the board his neighborhood was well-represented by the boundary committee. “But you veered from their recommendation and excluded us,” Timmerman said. “Our neighborhood is united in opposition, and we’re not alone.”
Timmerman spoke about the petition, and said the only support he’d found for the board’s decision came from the parents of a board member.
Timmerman also stated he felt Kuehl’s rationale on not overcrowding the new school was wrong. He pointed to the 16 elementary school-aged children in Deer View as having little impact on the new school. “It is mathematically impossible for a stable population of 16 students to cause overcrowding.”
Darla Bartels of Tiffin also took issue with to the board’s fiscal considerations and fiscal responsibility. “Where was the school board’s fiscal responsibility when they plopped the new school in an area not serviced by water, sewer or sidewalks?” Bartels asked. “The board seems to see the needs of the district, but not Tiffin’s needs.” By choosing the location at Park Road and Highway 6, Bartels said, Tiffin residents will be forced to pay for infrastructure while other towns in the district will not.
Bartels said it is not too late for the board to amend the boundaries. “No one will look down on you for changing your mind; in fact it would take great courage to revise the plan,” she said.
Aaron Betlach was direct in his opposition. “You split a town. You’ve made our community not a neighborhood.” Betlach closed with a warning for the board. “We elected you. Listen to us. If not, our community is going to rally and replace you,” he said.
Gene Charbon and Jay Allen, both members of the boundary committee, supported the plan and the board’s decision to accept it.
“I do know it’s affecting one small community,” Charbon said, “but we’ve got to look at the greater good for the whole school district. There’s boundaries everywhere. Yes, you guys are affected, and I’m sorry.” Charbon said when Deer View houses were built and bought, students were already slated to attend CCE in Oxford. “We did not change a thing there. We had to draw a line somewhere, and the school board drew it there, and I support their decision,” said Charbon.
Allen countered arguments that the board disregarded the committee’s recommendation.
“I do believe the board followed the recommendations of the committee pretty closely. Section ‘E’ (Deer View) really wasn’t addressed (in the proposals of the committee),” said Allen. He said Deer View was discussed in a board work session as a viable option for inclusion with the new developments, noting that doing so meets a lot of the board-authorized criteria. The board approved the boundaries as presented, he said, including Deer View. “It’s not like they dreamed this up on their own.”
As a matter of policy, the board does not interact with speakers during public comments other than to acknowledge the speaker.
“I know people are unhappy, and the board and I understand why,” Kuehl said after the meeting. But there’s no perfect answer in a situation like this, he added. “If it’s not this group that’s unhappy, it’s another group, and that’s just a hard reality.”
Kuehl praised the quality of all CCA schools.
“Wherever your kid goes to school in CCA, they’re going to get a great education with a staff that cares about them and works with them to make sure they learn and have a great experience. Hopefully, in the end, that’s what people come away with,” said Kuehl.
He speculated the board will not likely reconsider the boundaries, at least in the short term.
“We’ll probably be going through this whole fun-filled process again in five or six years,” Kuehl said. “The nice thing about the growth is the fiscal stability, and a lot of the good things we have going on. This is a ‘not-so-much-fun’ part of the challenge.”