100s address board on high-school enrollment

BY CLARK CAHILL | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

The Iowa City School Board welcomed hundreds of community members to share input about its high-school enrollment Monday night.

More than 50 community members filled out forms to speak at the forum held at Parkview Church, 15 Foster Road.

Issues have risen because projected enrollment numbers are well above capacity at West High and below capacity at City High. The option to build a third high school is not realistic in the near future because of the district’s financial constraints, Superintendent Lane Plugge said March 24.

Some community members have proposed changing the district’s enrollment boundaries to even out numbers at each school and to allow for a more balanced offering of Advanced Placement courses.
Area resident Tom Casavant said his daughter, who recently graduated from City High, was not able to take all of the classes she wanted. Of three classes she hoped to take, she could only choose two because there were not enough sections offered during the school day — a problem, he said, she wouldn’t have encountered at West High.

West High is projected to have roughly 2,500 students by 2017 — significantly above its 1,800 student capacity — while City High is projected to serve between 1,400 to 1,500 students by 2017. City High’s capacity is estimated at 1,600 students. The district expects it will face 4,000 high-school students by 2017, Associate Superintendent Jim Behle said.

Community member Patty Meier said changing the boundaries will affect many families and the identity of their children.

“A lot of families have made their decision on where to live based on these boundaries,” she said. “I hope [the board] respects families’ choices as they have already made them through their actions.”
Val Sheffield, father of a Lincoln Elementary student, said changing boundaries will not have a negative long-term effect on the city.

“We have to think of ourselves as a single community and draw some boundaries that are going to make our schools equal,” he said. “[The board is] not going to get a consensus vote, but [the board] has got to step up and do it.”

The local group COPE-Iowa is circulating a petition around the community and online in hopes of changing the boundaries. The group’s main concern is providing equal education opportunities for every student.

“I think we need to act immediately to stop the loss of teachers from City and the overcrowding at West,” COPE-Iowa member Ed Stone said. The group has almost 750 signatures on its petition — 18 percent of them coming from residents in the West High boundary.

Many citizens asked the board to take their time in making a decision on how to deal with the issues.
“Don’t let anyone push you into a hasty decision,” Meier said to the board. “We have to be thoughtful about the effect on the children.”

Although community members did not receive any answers from the board, School Board President Toni Cilek said the forum was an important step in the process.

“This is the best way to get the dialogue started. We are just looking for constructive input right now,” she said. “Ultimately, it will be a difficult decision, but we want something the community will embrace and support.”

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