Vote No Fact Check: Tom Carsner’s Letter

Tom Carsner of Iowa City, one of the founders of the Vote No group opposed to the GO Bond, has a letter in the Press Citizen.  I disagree with a number of the letter’s assertions, and there are a few claims that are incorrect. I found myself writing a lengthy fact-check/counterargument on a post on social media, and decided to bring it over here.  Given time I might come back and edit this to include text from Tom’s letter here and save readers the trouble of going back and forth.  For now though, the letter is here, and my raw response is below.

1. Nothing about Alexander Elementary shows the unreliability of projections. Alexander has temporaries because the WRAM (Weighted Resource Allocation Model) put smaller classes there. Smaller classes with the same number of students = more classes & therefore more classrooms.
 
2. 1,500 extra seats sounds like a lot, until you divide it up by the 24 schools in the district, attended by 14,0000 students.  That’s actually less than the recommended 2% for a growing district.
 
3. Lincoln and Hills were not “originally planned to be closed.” There were many, many options considered in the planning process. Its quite a stretch to suggest that anything outside of what was actually approved by the committee and by the board could be described as “planned.”
 
4. If this is broken up into 3 bonds, each one is smaller. But each of those bonds has to get a 60 percent margin across the entire district, despite possibly only offering improvements to one or two parts of the District. Our history on proposals like this is not good, to say the least. The process of planning and mounting these bonds would occupy a significant amount of the board and administration’s time, taking time and energy away from the many, many issues that need to be addressed in the District. This would also add several years to an already lengthy process of addressing facilities needs that are even more longstanding.
 

5. It’s very, very unlikely that a brand-new board, with many other needful projects on its plate, would be able to mount a new bond that it had confidence in getting passed in just 6 months. This is particularly true if we take into account the need to prioritize projects across all three proposed bonds, and the need to gather public input s part of the basis for that prioritization. Michael Tilley predicts it would take two years. I’d agree.

Not only does this mean that students do without facilities longer, it also means that each project gets around 8% a year more expensive due to construction inflation.

 
6. Before even engaging the paragraph about Hoover, we should note that voting down the bond will not re-open Hoover. That would take a board decision. That decision could be made whether or not the bond passes. And, whether or not the bond passes, the board would still have to figure out how to pay for yearly operating expenses for that school and still pay for the operating expenses at both of the new elementary schools opening in neighborhoods that are not as well served by schools as Hoover. We are a “big district” but we are still dependent on the state’s per-pupil allocation to pay teacher and administrator salaries.
 
7. The administration cannot say what the Hoover land will be used for because it hasn’t entered the design phase for the City High project. It would be pretty foolish to spend money on that before we actually have funding for the project itself. Even absent that specific knowledge, its clear that the land will provide flexibility in the design and construction of expansions and additions at City High, flexibility that is important given its much smaller area compared to the other two high schools in the District.
 
8. Schools do provide community. Hoover sits within a mile of 3 other elementary schools and on the grounds of a high school. It’s closure will still leave that neighborhood well served by schools. The two new schools that the bond pays for are in neighborhoods that are comparatively underserved by schools. Certainly these neighborhoods deserve the community building benefits of a school? Certainly these are also “neighborhood schools”?
 
9. Regardless of how one feels about the Superintendent, decisions regarding the Facilities Master Plan are made by elected members of the Board of Education, by vote, in open meetings, following discussions in those meetings and in work sessions. Under the plan we have built $155 million dollars worth of projects in the last 4 years. these projects have been built as specified in the plan, on time, and at or under budget. The bond is not a reward for Superintendent Murlley, and its students and teachers who will suffer the primary consequences if it fails.
 
10. None of the issues listed as a basis for not trusting the administration is more likely to be addressed if the bond doesn’t pass. In fact, given the time and energy that pursuing a new bond and reworking the plan and timeline around new funding would take, its pretty clear that important issues like reforming special education will be harder to address if the bond fails.
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Author: Eric D. Johnson

I do American Studies (PhD University of Iowa 2012) scholarship, including but not limited to: Race and Genre in American Popular Music, Critical Southern Studies, and African American Memory and History in the Ozarks. I also write about educational policy and politics, focusing on integration and desegregation and the intersection of school and housing policies.

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