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School omissions worry councilors

BY AMANDA MCCLURE | FEBRUARY 24, 2009 7:29 AM

The exclusion of three Iowa City elementary schools from a proposed Iowa City School District facilities-improvement plan raised concerns about neighborhood vitality among some Iowa City city councilors on Monday.

Last week, Mayor Regenia Bailey expressed concern about the exclusion of Longfellow, Mann, and Twain from the first five years of the proposed plan.

The council debated writing a letter to the Iowa City School Board addressing concerns over maintaining neighborhood schools, citing overlapping interests for improving areas of the city.

“There are some items in this plan that are under our reach,” Bailey said. “Neighborhood-development issues are central goals for both the council and the School Board.”

The proposed plan calls for $51 million to complete major capital projects during the first five years, none of which would go to the three “core” schools.

The councilors were split on the issue, with Bailey, Connie Champion, Matt Hayek, and Mike Wright in favor of addressing the School Board, while Amy Correia, Mike O’Donnell, and Ross Wilburn were against it.

Bailey said schools and city planning are meant to go hand-in-hand, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“It just makes sense that as two large tax entities, we work together to make sure both of our city visions are incorporated,” she said. “We don’t want to be moving down different paths.”

Correia wondered whether the council should act as whole or as individual community members.

“It’s outside of our reach; it would be like the School District coming in and telling us what to do about a fourth fire station,” she said.

A common concern among councilors was preserving the historical aspects of the neighborhoods the schools are located in.

“These are kind of inner-city neighborhoods, and we view them as small towns,” Champion said. “Take the school away, and you destroy the neighborhood.”

School Board member Mike Cooper said the schools were left out of the proposal because of the board’s need to address other issues throughout the district.

Board members debated on whether to leave certain schools out of the immediate facilities improvement plan, eventually deciding to alleviate overcrowding in Roosevelt Elementary and Weber Elementary first, he said.

“There is no intention of abandoning or neglecting older schools, but we have serious overcrowding problems we have to address,” he said.

Though there is no mention in the proposed improvement plan of taking down the three schools, Wright said the lack of mention of the schools alone was “frightening.”

Champion stressed the socioeconomic factors that would come into play if the School Board were to remove any of the schools out of the neighborhoods.

“Keeping those schools in the core areas also preserves idea of a mixed economic neighborhood, and it’s crucial,” she said.

Cooper noted schools such as Mann don’t have any structural problems that require immediate attention.

All schools in the district will continue to receive money from the local-option 1-cent sales tax and the physical plant and equipment levy.

The City Council will continue the discussion on the letter at its next meeting.


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