Guest Opinion: The G.O. bond doesn’t hold up against tough questions


Joe Cress

The Iowa City School District sign is seen off of North Dodge Street on Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

Neither the Press Citizen/Iowa Educators Association’s forum nor the Chamber of Commerce’s directed pertinent, hard questions to the School Board candidates. At both forums, the following question was submitted before the start of the program but ignored by the moderators, who chose instead to ask fluff-ball questions that drew no clear distinctions among candidates:

The district’s enrollment projections made in 2016 do not account for the fact that shortly after those were delivered to the board, the North Corridor added 2,000 single-family plats to the zoning map. Penn and Garner Elementaries are both well over-capacity, and some North Liberty children attend Van Allen
Elementary in Coralville. The planned new elementary school in the Facilities Management Plan is projected to open at its capacity of 600 students, but another is needed. If the bond passes, the planned overbuilding of 1,368 elementary seats will occur in Iowa City, not in the North Corridor, where the majority of future capacity needs exist.

Where will North Liberty children go to school if they are not to be crammed into buildings already full? Or will they be bused into the empty rooms that will exist in Iowa City or in temporaries, neither of which is budgeted for? How can the district pay for the capacity needs of the North Corridor given a bond that does not? It’s a question that gets directly to the fact that student enrollment projections are constantly changing and even the $191.5 million bond fails to address this pressing need.

The bond favors athletics over science, foreign language, and vocational tech training and puts the schools that serve the lowest socioeconomic areas dead last in the plan: Alexander and Kirkwood Elementary schools and Tate High School. Building a $10 million first-class athletic arena for Liberty High and gymnasiums at other schools is nice but hardly an educational necessity. It would be foolhardy to believe that money will be left by 2023 and 2024 for the projects most in need in 2017.

No one knows if the penny sales tax to fund schools will be extended, but those knowledgeable with the workings of state politics believe it likely. If it is extended, many millions of dollars will accrue to the district, money that could be used to pay for some of the projects, using bonding only for the remainder and taxpayers from increasingly higher property taxes.

The Aug. 20 Des Moines Register’s front-page headline was: “Across Iowa, the hot focus is on an effort to increase, elevate vocational and technical training in high schools.” Not in the School District. The Sept. 12 ballot doesn’t mention vocational and technical training, despite its leading to well-paid employment for those who do not go to college.

Candidates can say whatever they want and promise all they want, but with Policy Governance in place, the board has literally no power to do anything. Policy Governance was adopted by the board in 2003 and was originally designed to be used by corporations whose directors aren’t democratically elected. Much of the controversy surrounding the School District is a direct result of this policy, which gives the superintendent most of the decision-
making power. This may sound like an arcane matter, but it gets to the heart of who should have control over the purse strings.

None of the candidates have a working knowledge of the district’s finances, but there are differences regarding the need to change the culture of the district to one of acceptance, not exclusion. Please vote for Laura Westemeyer, Charlie Eastham, JP Claussen, Karen Woltman, and Vote ‘No’ Sept. 12.

Carol deProsse moved to Iowa City in 1973 and served on the City Council from 1973-1979. She chaired the A New Library For Everyone campaign, which built the present Iowa City Public Library downtown.

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