Meeting with local officials stresses communication

BY CHRIS CLARK | APRIL 09, 2009 7:40 AM

The Iowa City School Board met Wednesday with city, town, and county officials to discuss the importance of communicating on issues facing the School District.

Officials from Iowa City, North Liberty, Coralville, and University Heights agreed discussion among the cities in the School District and the public is vital to sustain neighborhoods and make appropriate decisions for the schools.

“It’s a critical part of community planning to get input from neighborhoods when the district talks about renovating [buildings] and moving kids,” said Iowa City City Clerk Marian Karr. “I think schools are the most important aspect of neighborhoods.”

Iowa City City Councilor Matt Hayek said he recognizes there has been a communication gap among the city councils and the School District.

“We will do whatever we can to increase discussions between all of the institutions,” he said.

School Board member Patti Fields agreed.

“Everyone has an interest in education and how our schools interact with the community,” she said.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said the city is committed to begin holding regular staff meetings with the School Board. Iowa City councilors said they want their relationship with the School District to mirror the council’s interactions with the UI.

While the School Board wants to reach out to community members, School Board President Toni Cilek said it is difficult to communicate with the public before every decision because of the number of towns in the district.

The board is in the process of evaluating older schools and how to manage them based on finances and quality of education, she said.

The School Board has recently discussed closing Roosevelt Elementary because of its aging facilities, stirring controversy throughout the district. Residents living near Roosevelt say moving the school would hurt their neighborhood.

“There is no plan to close any other school but Roosevelt,” Cilek said. “We need to work with communities. We know how important our neighborhoods are.”

Besides the Roosevelt issue, School District Superintendent Lane Plugge said the School Board is facing another problem.

He said the growing number of students in the community alongside a diminishing budget is a major issue.

“So much of our efforts are aimed at finding seats for students,” he said.

In addition to discussing issues facing the School Board, city and county officials discussed flood recovery and the possible use of revenue from a local-option sales tax that residents will vote on May 5.

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said it is important for his city to start thinking about funding massive flood-mitigation projects. Ideally, he said, Coralville will spend $54 million to fund a project to protect against waters up to 1 foot higher than last summer’s flood.

“That’s why we are talking about the sales tax — 100 percent of the money will go towards a flood- mitigation project,” he said.

In Iowa City, flood prevention will focus on raising Dubuque Street and replacing the Park Street bridge, which Bailey said would cost the city $32 million.

Iowa City City Manager Michael Lombardo said the city is working with the UI to develop a better flood-response plan to avoid forcing community members to scramble and sand bag.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will host the next joint meeting, scheduled for Sept. 16.

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