Of Better Bonds and Unicorns Pt. 1

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.

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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.