The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Parents, students against potential closure of Iowa City schools’ Hills Elementary

Closing Hills would reduce district costs by $1.6 million for fiscal year 2025.
Carly Schrum
Spectators converse during an Iowa City Community School District school board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

After receiving a message about the potential closure of Hills Elementary School from the school’s principal Reagan Boeset on Monday, students, teachers, parents, and residents flocked to the Iowa City Community School District’s school board meeting on Tuesday to argue to keep it open. 

Iowa Community School District is debating closing Hills Elementary School to reach a needed $3.75 million budget cut for the 2025 fiscal year. Removing Hills would reduce budget costs by $1.6 million, according to ICCSD Superintendent Matt Degner. 

Nearly 15 people stepped up to the mic to share their stories of Hills and why the district should not close the school. The board will decide which cost-reducing recommendations to adopt during the board meeting on March 26. 

RELATED: Iowa City schools to transition from junior high to middle school model

Hills has been recommended as the building to retire because it has the lowest enrollment numbers in the district. However, there have been promises of a new building for Hills over the past few years that the district has not followed through on. 

Michelle O’Brien, a paraprofessional at Hills, and her sixth-grade daughter Jolene both spoke at community comment to share their concerns about the school’s closure.

“I feel safe and protected at Hills. That’s the school I grew up in,” Jolene said when sharing about how the school handled a situation she had with a bully. 

Her mother O’Brien said relocating a vulnerable group, such as special education students, can be harmful to their routines and connections with friends and staff. 

“The change of the school is going to be traumatic and distressing,” she said. 

Another larger group that would be affected by the closure are Spanish-speaking students and English language learners. Parent Marcela Urtado, who spoke Spanish and had a child to translate her comments, said Hills provides helpful resources for immigrant families, including for her own children. 

Degner said the district spends $1,000 more per student at Hills than on students at any other school. 

The board discussed several different avenues for reducing costs, such as not renewing probationary teachers or eliminating attendance support bussing, but nothing adds up to the amount that closing Hills would reduce. 

Since the district has moved all sixth-grade students to middle school buildings for the 2024-25 school year, there is room for the relocation of Hills’ students. Teachers and staff will also be included in the relocation, as well as preschool programming. 

Board member Lisa Williams was especially adamant about not cutting any programming or jobs of people in the district. 

“I just don’t see us not being in a budget crisis mode any time in the near future,” Williams said. “I look at our numbers, and we are operationally inefficient in several areas, and we have to fix that. Otherwise, we have to cut our people, and we have to cut our programs.”

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About the Contributors
Grace Olson
Grace Olson, News Reporter
Grace Olson is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. She's a news reporter for The DI, reporting primarily on local government. She is from Denver, Colorado and worked on the pirnt publication from her high school prior to her work in college.
Carly Schrum
Carly Schrum, Photojournalist
Carly is a freshman majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication and potentially majoring in sustainability. She works at the Daily Iowan as a photojournalist.