There’s a lot that I could say about why Michael Tilley is a great choice for the ICCSD School Board. I want to focus on 3 personal qualities that I’ve observed over the last 6 years that Michael has been deeply engaged in our district. (1) Michael is a passionate advocate for justice and inclusion, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community. (2) Michael is devoted to thoughtful, evidence-based decision making, even if that leads to uncomfortable conclusions or reconsidering previous positions. (3). Michael is committed to meaningful public discussion of the issues at stake in a school district, and understands the board’s important role in making sure that policy is informed by these discussions. Please vote for Michael Tilley on November 5th!
If only Phil Hemingway and Chris Liebig had been on the school board when the GO Bond proposal up for a vote tomorrow (Tuesday, September 12th) had been written. If that were the case, then the energy they’ve spent writing blog posts and editorials criticizing the Bond proposal could have been spent improving it. Even if their ideas hadn’t swayed the other board members, they could have at least presented these ideas in public meetings, perhaps even early enough that they could have gathered public support for those ideas and used that support to sway their fellow board members.
Oh, wait…They were. And they didn’t.
Despite his longtime support for it, and despite multiple opportunities, Director Hemingway did not advocate for Bond language specifying funding for facilities to support vocational and technical education. And, despite his claims that the lack of language specifying support for special education facilities was a deciding factor in his refusal to back the policy that his Board voted to adopt, Director Hemingway also failed to propose this.
Similarly, Director Liebig has argued that the size of the current bond is due to the district’s “brush off culture” and that the board had missed an opportunity to offer the community a series of smaller bonds. Such an argument would be more convincing to attentive voters if he’d actually proposed a smaller bond rather than just writing a blog post about it.
Fortunately, the facilities created under the bond will make it possible for the District to pursue on-campus technical and vocational education at all three high schools, in conjunction with the resources available at the Kirkwood Regional Center. Also, fortunately, as former special education teacher and current school board candidate JP Claussen has pointed out, the extra classroom space created by the bond-funded renovations will give special education teachers increased flexibility in serving their students. And, the excellent special education facilities at Liberty High show that the lack of specific bond language doesn’t have to be a barrier to the creation of facilities that serve special education students.
Regarding the bond however, we have just the one proposal to say Yes or No to. And, as Michael Tilley points out, a “No” is unlikely to yield a new and “better” quickly enough to keep from disrupting the FMP timeline and costing the district millions of dollars. I’ll have more on the disparate and contradictory rationales that Vote No advocates cite in their rationales, and on the realistic prospects of successfully and transparently mounting a new bond in 6 months, later today. But for now, I want to turn to something I’ve been thinking about for a while regarding Directors Liebig and Hemingway.
I attended the board meeting where the final discussion of the bond proposal took place. During that debate, neither Hemingway nor Liebig voiced a reason for not voting for the proposed Bond formulation except that they thought it was too big and wouldn’t pass. This is a legitimate concern. But, if their overall worry was truly that the bond wouldn’t pass and the projects it supported would be endangered, then their decision to make passage even less secure by not signing on to a proposal that they knew the majority of the board supported makes little sense.
This is purely speculation, but it’s almost as if these two longtime Save Hoover advocates had a different reason for not wanting their fingerprints on a Bond proposal that they never intended to vote for. Perhaps they’re willing to put the fate of one aging building in the way of better learning conditions for students and better working conditions for teachers, but they just didn’t want to make that clear to voters.
While I’m far from done posting about the GO Bond, I want to use this space to talk a little bit about candidates in the upcoming school board election. I’m planning to do at least short entries on each of the 7 candidates that are vying for positions on the board. Today though, I want to talk briefly about the general field of candidates and the GO Bond, and to make some recommendations.
In general, I strongly recommend that you vote for candidates who are using their platforms to urge passage of the bond. It’s certainly not the only issue in this election, or the only issue facing the District, but it is preeminent in terms of timeliness, and it’s adoption puts the new board on better footing to address other issues. Because the bond requires a 60% approval in order to pass, the question of how candidates are using the spotlight they gain from running is important. Candidates who urge voters to pass the Bond demonstrate a clear understanding of these points.
Happily for me, (and I hope for all of you as well) the candidates who publicly and vocally support the Bond are also the candidates who are most qualified to address the District’s other issues going forward. Unhappily for me (but happily for the District, because one of these two will definitely be seated on the board) two of these candidates are running against each other.
These two candidates are Charlie Eastham and Shawn Eyestone. I have worked beside Shawn in the District Parents Organization for years, and I have supported him since he declared his candidacy. I have a sign for him in my yard and I respect his judgment, temperament, and knowledge of district issues a great deal. I have seen Charlie Eastham at school board meetings, work sessions, and listening posts often over the years, and have come to greatly respect his nuanced understanding of equity. I was overjoyed when I heard he was entering the race, but the fact that he and Shawn are competing for the same 2-year seat is unfortunate.
In the race for the 3 four year seats, JP Claussen, Janet Godwin, and Ruthina Malone have all urged passage of the bond and have made strong, clear arguments on its behalf. Each has also demonstrated qualities that would do them well in the process of overseeing implementation of projects on the Facilities Master Plan. Godwin and Malone have both articulated detailed and holistic visions regarding the challenges facing the District and how the board can align itself best to address those challenges. Malone has paid particular attention to the relationships between the Board, administration, and families, and Godwin shows a great understanding of what it takes to make a public board work effectively. Both have professional backgrounds that prepare them well for this work. Claussen brings great passion to the table, and the knowledge and experience gained by being a special education teacher in our District. Since his last run for Board, he seems to have abetted his passion with a commitment to listening to and responding thoughtfully to opposing viewpoints.
Karen Woltman, who is also running for a 4-year seat, has not taken a public position on the passage of the bond, saying only that she will “abide by the will of the voters.” I have friends who have great respect for her thoughts on issues of curriculum and instruction, but I’m dismayed by Woltman’s ambiguous stance here. Any director elected will have to abide by the will of the voters wrt the GO Bond. If someone doesn’t have or won’t offer an unambiguous position on such an important issue, then I’m not inclined to vote to put them in charge of the disposition of said issue. I do agree with her stated desire to move the board’s focus away from buildings and towards learning, but that goal would be better served by passing the bond than not doing so.
Laura Westemeyer is, at least, clear in her opposition to the Bond. Her initial statements, suggesting that this bond needed to be put forth under a new set of directors, made it seem that she did not quite understand her own role if elected regarding the bond’s implementation. She’s since clarified that what she wants is to be part of a board that writes a new bond, with said new bond adding an elementary school in the North, revisiting Hills Elementary, and also somehow being smaller than the current ask. Her statements regarding schools being left out of the bond don’t show much familiarity with the work already done on the Facilities Master Plan (and therefore not needing to be paid for with bonding authority). I have other reservations about Westemeyer, including an apparent contradiction between her vocal advocacy for the rights of disabled students in this race, and her citation for unlawfully denying a disabled tenant permission to keep a service animal.
Given what I’ve argued above, I urge you to see support for the GO Bond as a bright line between candidates in this election.
I’m sorry to see local writer and activist Paul Street join the small group of Iowa City progressives fronting for Republican causes in an effort to vote down the ICCSD GO Bond. Like most in this same set, he appears to not have seriously engaged with school district issues in any serious or rigorous way up until now, and, once engaged, he seems to have done little digging into those issues. Instead he’s settled his position into a general frame that posits that anything that could benefit a local developer in part must be a bad idea regardless of who else benefits from the bond passing, or bears the cost of it not passing.
I wish that we could simply hold an old-fashioned barn-raising to put up new schools or renovate old ones, but we can’t. As long as we slouch along under capitalism, large scale public works projects will generate profits for developers. As such, this doesn’t make a very good sole ground for simply opposing them all, as they can also supply wage work for building and professional trades, improve working conditions for workers within them, and provide serious and longstanding benefit to the community at large and individuals within the community. And this is particularly the case when those benefits are delivered free to all members of the community and are guaranteed to the most vulnerable among us. This, all of this, is the case with the projects funded under the bond.
Because I’m pressed for time, I’m going to fill out the rest of this post out with comments I’ve made on social media refuting specific aspects of Mr. Street’s editorial. I will say that Mr. Street seems to have his heart in the right place politically in many instances. I hope that he will consider these points and look more deeply into this matter.
Regarding the overall framing, there are some serious problems as well. This 6-month timeline is something I mostly hear from people who have not been engaged in this process until very recently.
Suggesting that a new bond could go back up in 6 months assumes that the reasons for this one failing would be self-evident. But that’s not the case. Some bond opponents object on the basis of cost and want a smaller bond. Other bond opponents have complained about specific projects being left out and want to add those. Others just want the superintendent gone. Others object that their corner of the district isn’t receiving enough money or attention. Just as there is now significant disagreement about what our “highest priorities” are, there will be disagreements during the process of putting together a new bond. If the board and administration go about this rigorously and transparently, as such a process requires, it will take significant amounts of time and energy and community input.
And, as the brand-new board undertakes this process, investigates which of the contradictory demands they want the new bond to be most responsive to, then what happens to the other very important work that Mr. Street points out needs attention from the board and administration? If the bond is voted down it will be harder, not easier, to address those issues as the board and administration scramble to adjust the FMP timelines and rework the plan that the bond funds.
See other posts about the actual likely consequences of the bond being voted down from me, and from friend of the page Michael Tilley.
Regarding developers profiting: I’m more or less a socialist. The day that we can build schools and undertake other large scale public building programs without generating profit for any private entities would be a great day. But that’s not where we are now. But, there are better and worse ways to undertake projects like this under capitalism. This one has the support of developers and real estate interests, but is also has the support of the Teachers Union, the Building Trades union and, in fact, every other local labor group. Its pretty distasteful to see these advocates for working people dismissed as “elites.”
Of course what this piece elides is that there are plenty of elites quietly organized in opposition to this, as local Republicans are more than happy to let a few progressive Democrats front for them while they distribute signs and leaflets for the Vote No effort.
To take Mr. street’s points in order:
First: 1,500 extra seats sounds like a lot, until you consider that we’re talking about a district that now has 14,000 students in it right now, and which gains about 300 students per year. That’s 1,500 seats split up across 24 schools.
Second: It’s more than a little contradictory to, on the one hand, complain that the projects aren’t tied to specific dollar amounts and then, within a sentence, suggest that projects might not be completed due to cost overruns. The kind of uncertainty fearmongered here is exactly why it makes sense to allow the elected School Boards who will oversee this process some flexibility. The bond ties the funding to the plan. Every change in the FMP has been discussed in open meetings and voted on by an elected board. Everyproject in the FMP has been accomplished on time and at or under budget. Specifying dollar amounts would leave the plan much more vulnerable to cost overruns and would mean that, if a project were finished under budget, the money saved couldn’t be spent on a different project under the bond.
Third: Interesting to note that all of those “highest priority projects” are in one area of the District. Voters in Coralville and North Liberty might not agree that these are the highest priorities, especially since that list leaves a whole high school without any athletic facilities, leaves West High with incomplete HVAC, and more. Note also that Mr. Street doesn’t say why this is better, it just is. We live in a large district, with many different priorities and needs spread across a huge area. One of the hallmarks of the FMP is its ability to balance these competing priorities. If not for that, we would still be fighting over whether we should have a new high school or renovate our older schools.
Fourth: There is no closing of “existing core Iowa City neighborhood schools” happening. One such school in Iowa City, one that sits within a mile of 3 other elementary schools and sits on the grounds of a high school, is being closed. The other urban schools are being renovated and invested in. One of the new schools being built is serving a neighborhood that has been bussed in to another school for years. The other is in downtown North Liberty. This is not a case of subsidizing sprawl. I’d like to see more capacity and renovation in Hills, which Mr. Street refers to as “rural Southwest Iowa City”) as well, but its hard to reconcile that with Mr. Street’s urge above for the bond to become smaller. Would this be one of those “highest priority projects?”
Fifth: The FMP does not grant Steve Murley or any other administrator “vast powers.” However anyone feels about the administration, that’s just a bunch of scary talk. As Mr. Street noted himself above, changes in the FMP are made by vote of elected board members. We are 4 years and $155 million dollars into this process, and every project has been carried out as specified int he plan which even Mr. Street recognizes as being changed only by majority vote of the elected board. Certainly there are legitimate complaints to be made about a number of issues in the district. Mr Street identifies several that are crucial for the board and administration to take immediate and thoughtful action on. Voting down the bond will do nothing to help that, and in fact will put severe impediments in the way of any effort to do so.
There are folks in our community who are very busy assuring us that it’s no big deal if the upcoming GO Bond that funds the last half of the Facilities Master Plan doesn’t pass. Tom Carsner’s letter in the Press Citizen is one example. I’ve run into numerous others on social media. Many (not all) who say this seem to have only recently engaged with school district issues, and most cite the technically true fact that a new and supposedly better) Bond could be put up as soon as 6 months after this one. Michael Tilley has been following the development and execution of the Facilities Master Plan closely for a long time. He’s written a post gaming out the probable outcomes of a failed Bond (spoiler, they aren’t good!), including why it would likely take much longer, and what the consequences of a delay of whatever length would be.
Michael’s post is thorough and instructive. I just want to add a few thoughts to build on it.
- The point I’d most like people, including Vote No advocates, to consider is the drain that reshuffling the FMP and mounting a new bond would put on the time, energy, and attention of the Board and central administration. This is a not-insignificant amount of work, particularly if it involves research to try to find out what elements need to be changed for a new bond to pass. There will be 4 brand-new board members who will already be hitting the ground running with a host of issues to contend with, from the need for reform in Special Education, to the achievement gap between white and non-white and between affluent and poor students, to accessibility and standardization of playgrounds across the district, and more. Many Vote No people cite their unhappiness about these issues as a reason to vote against the Bond, but voting down the bond will only ensure that the board can’t give its full attention to addressing those same issues.
For context here, we should remember that School Board is an unpaid, volunteer position. This means that Directors who aren’t independently wealthy (which would be all of them–which is good) have work lives (and family lives, etc.) to contend with outside of the board. I’m not saying this to generate sympathy for people who seek out this position, but to bring home the fact that there are limitations on the board’s time and energy as well as really urgent issues that need attention.
- Many of the Vote No advocates cite a lack of transparency in board and administration decisions. At the same time, these same people are also saying that a new plan (allowing for a re-figured list and order of projects) and a new Bond should be developed and put up for a vote in 6 months. Think again about the impediments to such a process I noted above, and that Michael notes in greater detail, and try to imagine how it could be done with any kind of public input. And then try to imagine how little other work could get done during that time.
- Most Vote No advocates suggest that a “better” bond would be smaller, because that would make it more likely to pass. That seems intuitively correct, but it isn’t necessarily so at all. A smaller bond still has to clear 60% of the vote to pass, meaning that it’s likely to need votes from all across the District. But by virtue of being smaller, such a bond would have a hard time including projects from all across the District. As friend of the page Sara Barron has pointed out, we don’t have a great record of taking care of kids who aren’t our own in this district. There are fierce geographic rivalries in play. Even with the current bond, which balances projects in all areas pretty well, I know at least one person from the East side who is refusing to vote for it because it spends any money in the North, and several anonymous commenters on Director Liebig’s blog have argued that the bond spends too much money on the East side. This rivalry has played out poorly in school bond issues before in the district (and well, in about every other kind of issue as well) and it’s easy to imagine it doing the same here for a bond whose projects were limited to one side of the District or another.
- The last point I’d make here is just that, while many Bond advocates argue for voting against the bond in order to “teach the District a lesson” or as a rebuke to Superintendent Murley, the real consequences will be felt by the kids and the teachers in our schools.
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.
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.
Several of the people in the ICCSD political arena have decided that the best way for them to influence policy is by running anonymous Facebook pages. The first was the long-running “North Corridor Parents,” which has always claimed to be simply an information-disseminating page, but has a pretty distinct editorial slant, and which has even taken to endorsing candidates. I’m not sure how that works with their stated mission, or why anyone should care about the endorsement of someone(s) who won’t actually reveal who they are, but hey, its a thing I guess.
The latest entry into this sweepstakes of fail is The ICCSD Monitor: Keeping an Eye on SES Integration In the Iowa City Community School District While Holding Down A Job As A Private Wrestling Tutor For Families Who Can Afford Private Athletics Lessons. Actually, that’s not the name of it, or at least the last part of the name isn’t accurate. You probably guessed that though.
I made the mistake of commenting on a thread on that page, mainly because I’m frustrated with a seriously inaccurate revisionist history that’s been floating around. There are 3 main parts to this history: (1) that there are multiple, easy opportunities for economically desegregating the school district on the elementary level, (2) the people who have been advocating for the 2015 secondary boundaries either have not made any efforts to change those boundaries or have actively worked against them being changed, so (C) therefore they don’t actually care about socioeconomic integration, they are just trying to keep poor people and minorities out of City High.
Now, I can’t speak for every person who ever advocated for that 2015 plan, but I know that (1) is categorically untrue, and that (2) is at least very largely untrue, especially the second half, and that (3) is a spurious attack that would carry little weight even if (2) were true. Its an attempt to discredit valid arguments about the benefits of SES desegregation of schools by casting doubt on the motivations of the people making those arguments.
So, this is pretty frustrating, especially when shadows of it come out in supposedly respectable venues, such as when Director Chris Liebig characterizes that plan as a plan to remove poor people and minorities from City High, ignoring the fact that the motions and adjustments that he and Directors Roetlin, Hemingway, and (then-Director) Yates made effectively removed a large number of poor people and minorities from Liberty High.* The latter effect, notably has no visible advocates in the ICCSD political circus, though I suspect that a small portion of the advocacy that invokes the transportation burdens of families at Kirkwood and Alexander (burdens not relieved under either plan, as I discussed here) is actually intended to achieve this end. But that’s just a suspicion. And, importantly, the fact that this is an unspoken aim of some of those advocates shouldn’t be taken as establishing anything about the character and intentions of the people sincerely advocating out of concern for some of the poorest families in the district. I would hope that it makes them re-think the effects that their advocacy might have on those families, but that’s all.
So, being frustrated with all of this, I posted a comment on a thread calling this out. The anonymous admin commented back. I answered him (he’s a him) and posted a link to an entry on my other blog, which I use just to keep track of links to online articles and sources of information. Since then, he’s replied multiple times, attempting to address some of the points made in the articles on my other blog. I’m not taking the bait. I’m not going to engage in a dialog with an anonymous FB page. But, I may pick that dialog up here. Because of this, I wanted a reference post for those replies, and that’s largely what this is.
*Regarding the title of Director Liebig’s editorial there, yes it should, at least as much as it listens to others. But, low income families across the district don’t speak in a uniform, homogenized voice, and the voices that he is responding to don’t even necessarily speak for the bulk of the low income families at the two schools in question.
One of the questions at the heart of the special school board election is the question of secondary boundaries that the current 6-member board is deadlocked on. Paul Roesler and Janice Weiner favor the boundaries adopted last year after lengthy community input. These boundaries create something close to a demographic balance by class, and a less-dramatic balance by race, between all three comprehensive high schools in the district.
Candidate JP Claussen favors the adjustments made mid-meeting on a 4-3 vote on May 10th of this year. (It was after this vote that Director Tom Yates, whose campaign Claussen had managed, suddenly left the board, forcing the district to undertake a costly special election.) Those boundaries would have Liberty High opening as an overwhelmingly white and affluent school, in comparison to the other two schools.
The previous plan created this rough balance by sending two of our highest poverty schools (Kirkwood and Alexander) and two of our lowest poverty schools (Wickham and Lincoln) to secondary feeders that are slightly more distant than their nearest school. Claussen (and current directors Liebig, Hemingway, and Roetlin) argue that we shouldn’t do this because the distance creates an undue burden on those Kirkwood and Alexander families, based on complaints from an unknown number of parents at those schools. While I would always urge us to listen to the voices of parents at high poverty schools, like the one my child attends, I don’t think that these objections should determine the policy here, and I want to lay out some reasons why.
One thing that I want to make explicit is that the points below about the May 10th changes should be read in dialog with the premise that socioeconomic and racial integration has distinct benefits for every student in the district. There is much research supporting this. So, the arguments below aren’t just criticisms of the May 10 changers, they are arguments that the supposed benefits of those changes are poor trade-offs for the loss of such a benefit.
1. The issue of inadequate transportation to school is serious, and distance is an unfair burden on these families, but the changes made on May 10th don’t actually do anything meaningful to reduce that burden. Both schools are outside of comfortable walking distance to their closest feeders. Families in both zones would be bus-dependent under both scenarios. Shortening their bus ride by 5 minutes won’t change that. And in fact, since some of the families in question live within the 3-mile automatic busing radius of their closest feeders, sending them to one slightly farther away guarantees them busing to school that they might not otherwise have.
I want to stop here and do a double take, because it might be the most important of the points I want to make: while distance does create a real burden on families without reliable transportation, the supposed solution here does not actually ease that burden in a significant way, and in fact will increase it in some cases.
2. Regarding Kirkwood, specifically, the argument has been made that there’s no public transportation in North Liberty, where Liberty High is located. This is true, but I think its significance is vastly overstated. Taking public transportation to West from the Kirkwood area requires riding a bus to downtown Iowa City and then taking another bus from there to West High. I suppose that, as long as its possible that this could happen, its wrong to absolutely say that it doesn’t. But, former Northwest Junior High principal (and current West High principal) Gregg Shoutz has stated in public meetings that its not a resource that Kirkwood families draw upon with any regularity. Moreover, it seems much preferable to me that we demand that North Liberty create a public transportation system–something that would benefit its residents in many ways–instead of demanding that we compromise the educational opportunities of many students in the district.
3. Repeatedly in public statements JP Claussen and directors Liebig, Roetlin, and Hemingway have argued that they represent the interests of Kirkwood and Alexander parents as a whole, or that they represent the families that attend those schools with the least access to transportation. The first claim is untrue, as neither school’s population is entirely unified on the question, and the second is unverifiable. In fact, we don’t really, in the public arena, have any hard information about what percentage of the population of each school is making these complaints. Some kind of quantification here would be helpful in determining what is or isn’t at stake in this trade off.
4. While the distances between these elementary zones and their high school destinations don’t differ much between the two plans, the distances to the Junior Highs are a concern. This is particularly true of Kirkwood, which sits literally right next to Northwest Junior High, West’s feeder, but is a good distance from North Central, which feeds to Liberty. Because of this, the original boundaries allowed Kirkwood students to choose which Junior High they would attend. I think that similar modifications for Alexander, and perhaps for another feeder that would split between city and liberty, would make this set up less unique and make the entire plan more palatable, while still maintaining overall demographic balance at the high school level.
5. Advocates for the May 10 boundaries have repeatedly argued that low income students will be barred from participating in extracurricular activities under the previous boundaries. They fail to notice that Hills is more distant from City and West than either of these schools are from their previous destinations, but has been assigned at different times to both City and West. There have been no reports of Hills students being barred from extracurricular participation to my knowledge.
6. Advocates for the May 10 boundaries are fond of saying that it achieves demographic balance “at the expense of poor people” or asking when we will bus affluent kids to distant schools. In doing so, they neglect the fact that Wickham and Lincoln were bused to more distant schools under the those borders, and that the May 10th changes threaten our ability to maintain that, by creating crowding at City and West and in their associated Junior Highs.
7. JP Claussen has argued that, rather than trying to create balanced attendance zones we should achieve demographic balance on the secondary level by making each high school a kind of magnet, with specialized curricula, and allowing a greater degree of parental choice. This actually deserves to be unpacked more fully, and I intend to do that, but here I want to note one of the problems with such an effort: it would require busing on a much larger and much more expensive scale than anything contemplated previously, and families without dependable transportation would be faced with much more dramatic distances to school than anything contemplated in last year’s borders. Imagine that you’re in the Twain zone, and Liberty is a stem-focused campus and you wish to attend. How much does it cost to make sure every kid like that has busing to the school of their choice? What are the options for a family like that if they miss the bus?
In general, this last point underscores my worries about Claussen’s candidacy. He has much enthusiasm for ideas that are noble and interesting, but seems unwilling to delve into the implications of specific policy proposals. This is particularly problematic given that he would be the deciding vote on the question of secondary boundaries considered here.
As always, events continue apace with little or no consideration of whether or not I have time to right about them. I’ve been meaning to do a comprehensive post about the ICCSD School Board’s struggle with secondary boundaries, but matters pertaining to that keep coming up while that post is still under construction.
In a nutshell: last year, the Board set a secondary boundary plan in place that created a relative demographic balance of wealth, English Language Learner status, and special education status between all three comprehensive secondary schools in the district. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, (more on that later) but it was based on an extensive community input process and much board deliberation, and measures were put in place to ease the burdens of some low income students. This May, a group of four board members approved a series of motions overturning key parts of that boundary plan, essentially creating a new set of secondary boundaries mid-meeting, while asking the superintendent for on-the-spot calculations regarding the demographic outcomes. Unsurprisingly, this plan greatly increases the wealth and race-based disparities between the secondary schools in the district.
One of those four board members, Phil Hemingway, has a Letter to the Editor in today’s Daily Iowan. It doesn’t specifically address the secondary boundary plan by name, but, the board is deadlocked 3-3 on this plan until next week’s Special Election, and the major point of contention in that deadlock is the question of whether two high-poverty schools (Alexander and Kirkwood) should feed into high schools slightly farther than those closest to them. Given this, its hard to see it as anything but a comment on that matter.
There’s really a lot in Phil’s letter that needs disputing, from the conflation of boundary changes for integration as busing, to the overstating of the costs of busing, to the implicit claim that sending extra resources into high poverty schools is as effective and as cost-effective as integrating them. But what really sticks out to me on first reading is Phil’s use of language. What’s below started out as a comment on the article itself online. I’m adapting it here to include some references and to make it more cohesive.
This is more of a hot-take than I usually like to do here, but well, I’m pretty hot about this. The ICCSD BoE Education Committee last night voted not to ask the full board to implement the Weighted Resource Allocation Model for the upcoming school year. The WRAM would allocate more teachers (leading to lower class sizes) and other resources to high poverty schools. Smaller classes are one of the few resource allocations that have been found to consistently increase achievement for poor and minority students. In a year when class sizes are going to go up all over, because of inadequate state funding, its utterly crucial that poor students, students who don’t have the myriad advantages of those who come from middle class and affluent families not be asked to take the brunt of the impact. And its utterly cowardly to not even have the full board consider this.
For years, as some of us have struggled to integrate school attendance zones in the ICCSD and reduce the tremendous disparities in wealth between zones, the counter-reply has been “no, don’t change any boundaries, just move more resources.” In this regard, using the WRAM to allocate more teachers to high poverty schools is critical in two regards. One is that it provides immediate relief, giving the kids in high-poverty schools a fair shake while the deadlock over integration continues. And, because the zero-sum game of Iowa education funding means that this would lead to larger classes in more affluent schools, it imposes a cost on the continued failure to integrate. Not a cost on the students, as the effect of larger classes on middle class and affluent students has been found to be minimal, but a cost on the middle class parents who will be horrified at the notion that doing something about the race and class-based achievement gap in a public school system might require them to put some skin in the game. We’ve had a lot of talk about “moving resources and not students” in this district. Lets see what the walk looks like.
So, in the last few weeks, a significant portion of this board’s membership has:
*started working to undo secondary boundaries that were set expressly to provide demographic balance between the (soon to be 3) high schools.
*Refused to work on elementary boundaries that were slated to be considered, and which would provide opportunities to redress long-standing disparities.
*Refused to let the WRAM go forward for consideration by the full board for the 2016-2017 school year.
I should acknowledge that there is some complexity behind these details, but overall this is an unconscionable failure. Members of this board seem paralyzed in the face of any decision that might be controversial at all, arguing that it could be overturned by a future board, or that it could endanger the upcoming GO Bond vote. I’d argue, and will later at length, that refusing to make solid plans, refusing to direct the district towards an integrated and sustainable future, and refusing to address long-standing disparities that endanger educational equity for poor and minority students is the real recipe for failure. And that’s what we have cooking now.