School board faces enrollment issues, may build new high school by 2015

BY ZHANRAN ZHAO | JULY 15, 2009 7:15 AM

If approved, a new high school in the Iowa City School District will be completed by the 2014-2015 school year.

Superintendent Lane Plugge set the timeline at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting. In addition, he outlined six possible scenarios — based on demographics data developed by the UI geography department — in redrawing school boundaries and building the proposed new school.

School board officials cited recent discrepancies in enrollment among Iowa City junior high and high schools for the changes. They estimate by the 2011-12 school year, enrollment figures at West High school can top 1,800 students, overshooting the maximum capacity by around 150 students.

Meanwhile, enrollment at City High has remained at approximately 1,400 students, leaving more than 200 spots empty.

In addition, because of recent growth in North Liberty and the overflowing of North-Central Junior High, officials anticipate the need to build a new high school. The junior high had been built in part to provide additional room to accommodate new students.

Plugge also described plans to distribute 35 students each year to schools with extra capacity in Iowa City, Southeast Junior High and City High.

But discussions of those plans ended when School Board member Mike Cooper brought up redrawing boundaries for the whole district. He said the decision must be approached slowly and carefully.

“I think it’s wrong to [redraw boundaries] twice. It’s better to be right than to go fast and go wrong,” said Cooper, drawing nods and whispered agreements from the gathered crowd.

Retracing school boundaries has arguably become a volatile issue in the community, affecting students from local elementary schools to high schools. Last month, the School Board voted to close Roosevelt Elementary, which the Iowa Department of Education identified as having ethnically and socioeconomically isolated enrollment patterns.

School Board member Michael Shaw pressed for a swift process in deciding the issue; he cited the district’s five elementary schools with more than 50 percent of students who eat free or reduced lunch.

“If we delay this [decision] longer, we are effectively saying the impact this has on elementary students is negligible,” said Shaw.

Ed Stone, a UI professor of ophthalmology, petitioned for more equal distribution of teaching resources to even out educational opportunities at the high schools. He is a member of Citizens for Outstanding Public Education in Iowa, a group aiming to improve education quality in Iowa City public schools.

Stone outlined a plan to divert teaching resources to the two high schools based on the number of students. He cited a 7 percent smaller teaching faculty at City High compared with West High for the next year.

“Please do not believe curricular inequality can be unaddressed for four more years,” Stone said. “It will hurt children and it will hurt the community.”

The School Board pushed back making any decisions pending additional data and input from the community.

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