IOWA CITY– A new high school on the north side, an elementary school on the east side, or both?
Or should administrators consider additions to schools around the district?
Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) officials have promised to take some steps to correct overcrowded classes in Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, but keeping everyone happy is a tall order. ICCSD will likely struggle to satisfy every student’s needs in the next few years and local parents are getting vocal about their concerns for classroom space.
Some residents are calling the 2007 passage of SILO a referendum for a new high school. The SILO, or School Infrastructure Local Option, is a one-percent sales tax and has brought almost $60 million to the schools.
Two online petitions have been circulated with nearly 2,000 total signatures. One represents east-siders who want a new elementary school there. The other is from north side residents who request schools in the burgeoning corridor, which remains one of the fastest-growing areas in the state.
In early April some parents lobbied the North Liberty City Council to speak up for a new school in the corridor.
On April 17, at a school facilities meeting, administrators shared a 2011 plan that showed a north elementary school as part of the long-range facilities plan for the district’s primary schools.
Superintendent Steve Murley said that more than one elementary school could be considered, but “Penn clearly has too many students and attention needs to be paid to that.”
The same document showed a fourth high school by 2015-2020, and ongoing high school attendance zone shifts in the short-, medium- and long-term phases of facilities planning.
Another option discussed was to ease overcrowded elementary schools by sending sixth-graders to the district’s junior high schools, which currently only house seventh and eighth graders.
Murley also said that the district could not afford two new elementary schools plus a new high school in such a short time frame.
Later on April 17, at the regular ICCSD board meeting, the schools received their annual demographics report from University of Iowa geography graduate student Geoffrey Smith and Professor Gerard Rushton.
Last year, district-wide enrollment jumped by 442 students.
The report projects the district could add roughly 800 elementary students over the next five years. Junior High enrollments are expected to gain about 200 students by 2016-2017. Though high school enrollment was initially expected to decrease in 2011, there was actually an increase of 89 students. By the 2016-2017 school year, high school enrollment is projected to reach 3,838 students, according to the report.
The school administration has requested an accelerated report from the fourth high school committee which is exploring the cost to build and operate a new senior high building, what courses could be offered at a 900-student senior high and an overview of the extracurricular offerings at the potential school.
The report had been scheduled for August but will instead be filed at the end of June.
The facilities committee may make a decision in May about the so-called “trigger number” of high school students, or the number of students the district determined would signal the need for a fourth high school, projected by Smith’s demographics report to be reached by the 2014-2015 school year.
At the end of the April 17 ICCSD board meeting, Jeff McGuiness suggested toying with the number of 3,750 students set in 2010, to trigger a new high school in the district. At issue is whether the number includes certain populations of students.
The schools have been hosting a series of redistricting forums to discuss scenarios to redistribute students from overcrowded primary and middle school classrooms to less full ones.
Still, conversation at the April 18 junior high and elementary redistricting forum at Van Allen Elementary several times drifted to a new high school in North Liberty.
Coralville resident Kathy Skopec has kids at three different schools and complained that the district’s refusal to address the high school issue is leaving families in the dark about where their kids will go next.
Skopec said, “If you let them split your junior high, you don’t know where they’ll end up for high school.”
Assistant superintendent Ann Feldmann told the crowd of about 75 that the schools were designing redistricting plans that would ultimately complement a new high school and other scenarios.
She said an eastside elementary school would be needed in the next five years and noted that the board was well aware of the three-year window needed to build a new high school.
Some board members and other administrators were on-hand for the public forum.
The session started with the discussion of Draft 2, which sends 91 students out of Wood to Longfellow (Living along Taylor, Davis, and Bancroft), 104 students out of Longfellow to Twain (Windsor Ridge and Redwing Estates), and 69 students out of Twain to Hills (Lake Ridge).
In Draft B, which addresses overcrowding at North Central Junior High, a boundary shift would send 74 Wickham and Van Allen students from North Central Junior High instead to Northwest Junior High to keep North Central near its current capacity of 408 students.
The school board will host a Listening Post on Wednesday, April 25, 6:30 p.m. at the North Liberty Recreation Center. The public is invited to attend.