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Will ICCSD get size wise?

By B. Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Capacities at Iowa City West and City High are near the ideal size for high schools, according to a report. And a new 1,000-student high school would also fit in the sweet spot of high school enrollment sizes.
Get too big and educators can lose sight of troubled students who need help.
Go too small and students can suffer from lack of course offerings.
A Hanover Research report examined by the board of the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) confirmed the predicted size for a new high school in the district.
Using board input from that discussion and following presentations from a series of consultants on Aug. 7, ICCSD Superintendent Stephen Murley and fellow administrators will craft a comprehensive facilities plan and present a draft in September.
Facilities committee chair Jeff McGinness said he hoped to hit the ground running in September and move forward with a school buildings plan.
Murley will present recommendations to the board about some tools to gauge district need and resources, and administrators will write requests for proposals (RFPs) for board review. Murley said writing the RFPs will guide the district and inform its long-range facilities plans.
BLDD Architects, one of the consultants that presented Aug. 7, has an assessment tool that can calculate existing and new building maintenance costs in a 20-year cycle based on a computer map of every classroom, boiler, roof, and other infrastructure items. The software map would cost roughly $120,000 and could be completed in a few months.
Redistricting software that redraws school boundaries at the click of a button– like the package offered by GuideK12 at an annual cost of $2.25 per student– is another option.
Or, the district could hire a demographics consultant like the University of Wisconsin Applied Population Laboratory, which would give enrollment projections similar to the ones currently being compiled by Geoffrey Smith through the University of Iowa’s Geography Department.
Whatever the tool, the direction is the same: new schools for ICCSD.
At the Aug. 21 facilities meeting, board member Sarah Swisher opined that too much emphasis had been put on a new high school and what was needed was movement on a new elementary school in Iowa City.
McGinness agreed that elementary schools were an issue, but said in addition to those on the east side of Iowa City, schools like Garner Elementary in North Liberty were overcrowded too.
He said the district’s plan and priorities would need to address all schools at all levels.
An elementary school in Iowa City has been pitted against a new high school in the northwest part of the district as an either-or decision for the school board.
Petitions for both sides have been circulated and some have complained that the schools promised too much when they pushed the 2007 School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) tax.
SILO is a 10-year, one-percent, county-wide sales tax that will expire in 2017 and has already brought $60 million for ICCSD school buildings and maintenance.
So far, SILO money has been spent on two new projects– Garner and Borlaug Elementary schools– plus a City High fine arts addition and renovation work at South East Junior High and Horn Elementary.
Parents lobbied for new schools at a city council meeting in North Liberty earlier this year and on Aug. 15, Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek wrote a letter to the ICCSD school board asking for more money for schools in his town.
A 2011 school facilities plan presented at an April 2012 facilities meeting showed another north-side elementary school as part of the long-range facilities plan for ICCSD primary schools.
But at that April meeting, Murley said the district could not afford two new elementary schools plus a new high school in a short time frame.
The 2011 plan showed a fourth high school by 2015-2020 with ongoing high school redistricting and boundary shifts in the short-, medium-, and long-term phases of facilities planning.
The administration’s comprehensive plan should “reflect new facilities and existing schools,” board member Sally Hoelscher said. “We need to take care of the buildings that we have, too.”
The next regular board meetings are Sept. 4 and Sept. 18. The Hanover study can be found on the ICCSD home page at www.edline.net/pages/ICCSD.