IOWA CITY– The message from the public at the July 9 Iowa City Community School District ICCSD) board meeting can be summed up with these resounding words.
“Don’t close neighborhood schools.”
The meeting began with a presentation from the district’s facilities steering committee, which offered the board a final two scenarios for the direction of ICCSD schools. Option A called for the closure of Theodore Roosevelt Educational Center and for building three new elementary schools, while option B called fore closure of Hoover, Hills and Lincoln. Both scenarios included plans for a third high school with a 1,500-student capacity.
The board plans to review the scenarios and have one, or an altered version of one, chosen at the next board meeting on July 16. This came after over an hour’s worth of public comment, where nearly every speaker defended his or her own neighborhood school.
No North Liberty schools are in the conversation of retiring existing facilities, but any school closure may influence the new location of the proposed high school; all signs have been pointing toward a high school in the North Liberty community, but no land purchase has yet been announced.
Hoover Elementary parent Mary Kate Pilcher Hayek was unconvinced that Hoover should be shut down. She cited an earlier plan circulated to the public by the board that called for major renovations and upgrades to older schools, but made no mention of the possibility of school closures.
“Closing a neighborhood school is a decision with great consequence,” Pilcher Hayek said to the board. “Hoover families like mine will hold the district and the board responsible for this decision. Moving forward just give us the facts and make sure your actions are consistent with the information you provide to the community.”
Multiple speakers were from the community of Hills, and discussed how the closing of the community’s only elementary school could potentially inhibit economic and communal growth. Office manager at Hills Bank Kelsey Redlinger mentioned various ways his bank has worked with and supported the elementary school. He believes that relationship fostered a mutual need, and common mission for the township.
“Cherish is not too strong of a word,” Redlinger said. “We truly cherish our relationship with Hills Elementary and we strongly wish for that partnership to continue.”
“Schools become families, and I think if you have one kid that starts in a school and they continue throughout that school, you just get close to all the people,” Marla Swesey said. “It’s really the people that’s the neighborhood no matter where they go to school.”
During discussion, board member Sarah Swisher asked her colleagues, “(if they believe they) can afford to do what they want to do with new schools, without closing schools?” That seems to be the million-dollar question the board will address over the week.
To Hills resident Heather Stevens, however, it shouldn’t be as much a question of money– it’s about keeping neighborhood schools in its vibrant community.
“The thing I’m still struggling with,” Stevens said, “is a growing district closing schools.”
The ICCSD school board was expected to meet and discuss the options Tuesday, July 16, subsequent to the publication of this newspaper.