IOWA CITY– During a four-and-a-half hour session, the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board of education provided guidance to Superintendant Steve Murley on mapping attendance zones, and approved the 2015 budget at their June 10 meeting.
The school board appeared willing to moderate the mandates of the district diversity policy when re-drawing attendance zone maps, and the 2015 budget cuts, including world languages, sports, libraries and music programs, were approved without substantial changes.
During their May 27 work session, the school board rejected the initial attendance zone maps prepared by administration. The June 10 meeting was an opportunity for Murley to ask clarifying questions of the board so he and his staff could prepare maps that might gain approval. He presented three pages of questions to the board.
“I’m open to your feedback about how to proceed through the questions,” began Murley.
Murley characterized his questions as pertaining to community input, magnet schools, a transferring grandfather process, and importantly, how to handle conflicts between the mapping process and diversity policy mandates. He asked how to prioritize and move the mapping process forward.
“I want to answer the questions that they need to have answered,” said Director Chris Lynch to his fellow board members. “I do think we’ve got to provide Steve with some more direction. I think we should be clearer with what we think the problem statement was with the first round of maps. So then get into the root cause of why we think that is so he can act on it.”
The board agreed to have a broad discussion of issues related to attendance zone mapping rather than respond to each question individually. Discussion centered around the mandates in the district diversity policy and whether and how to relax them based on feedback from the community engagement process.
“There is also a lot of community pushback against the diversity policy,” said Director Tuyet Dorau. “I don’t know if the administration felt like they were able to adopt some of those ideas because of the requirement to adhere to the diversity policy.”
“Could we argue that relaxing the diversity policy is a direct response to that sentiment of individuals? “asked Director Brian Kirschling.
“It’s important to remember that (community engagement we have heard so far) is a piece of it, and not the final say,” said Board President Sally Hoelscher.
“The diversity policy was a mandate because it is a policy,” said Director Marla Swesey. “That was something that people were pushing back on, but it is the reason why we are trying to get some of these boundaries changed so that our schools are more equitable.
“It would be to take the balance of the community comments and also of our policy,” continued Swesey. She expressed agreement with being flexible on both the diversity policy and community engagement, but made it clear she wanted to proceed based upon the language in the policy.
Dorau repeated her request that the board vote on any changes to, or relaxation of, mandates in the diversity policy, during the board’s guidance to Murley.
The board used words like “middle ground,” “common sense” and “balance” in its guidance discussion. Murley indicated he had sufficient clarification to proceed with the next iteration of attendance zone maps.
Next, Murley presented an updated Fiscal Year 2015 budget adjustment to the board and entertained questions. Lynch immediately motioned approval of the budget adjustment. Swesey seconded.
“We have community people who are here to speak on this and we already have a motion and a second,” said Director Patti Fields. “I thought that we would have some more time. My questions have to do with (the fact that) people feel like they weren’t involved with the process, especially on the teacher level– to provide input, maybe even some ideas on cost savings. The district did take a lot of time, from what I understand, to do all of these plannings. I’m wondering why we didn’t take it out to our staff who actually do it.”
Murley indicated discussions of the budget cuts were held with ICEA and ISEA representatives.
“We had that discussion with them on several occasions,” he said. “We understood the positions they took and recognized the concerns that they had were real, and we moved forward based on that input.” The building staff was also consulted as part of the process, he added.
Each board member spoke in turn. A number of community comments were heard on the budget cuts to the music program, and a new proposal to use remaining athletic department funds to create a flag football program was presented. The board approved the updated budget adjustment in a 4-3 vote with Dorau, Fields and McGinness dissenting.
In other business, the board approved a Blue Zone Project Resolution, declaring the ICCSD’s support of Iowa City’s effort to achieve Blue Zone designation. The board renewed membership in the Iowa Association of School Boards and the Urban Education Network of Iowa, and heard an asset protection report regarding property/casualty and worker’s compensation insurance. In addition, the board approved next steps of Appendix 9 to the facilities master plan.
The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for June 24 at 6 p.m.