Some parents concerned with draft of Borlaug boundaries

BY LUKE VOELZ | APRIL 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Some Iowa City School District parents and faculty said they are worried the district's proposed boundaries for its new elementary school will have a negative effect on transportation and place a burden on low-income families.

The changes would force some students to transfer out of their current elementary and into Borlaug Elementary for the 2012-13 school year. Weber Elementary, for instance, would lose 19 students, and Mann Elementary would lose 16.

Community members and district officials discussed plans for the new school at a public forum on Wednesday.

Bus routes seemed to be residents' biggest concern.

Weber Elementary parent Shelly Skala said the district seemed to be reaching too far in creating new bus routes to Borlaug.

"[The district has] 150 students who are going to be redistricted to Borlaug. Some of those are [currently] walking to Weber," she said. "The reason for this is I feel we need to justify spending money to fill up [Borlaug] when there are currently 40 kids in that area."

Julie Van Dyke, who has a son at Hills Elementary, said she opposed the district's plan to bus students from the Pheasant Ridge neighborhood to Borlaug. Many of these students and their families are in welfare housing and receive free or reduced lunch services, and she said the district is "cherry-picking" these children to make their free or reduced lunch programs look more spread out throughout the district.

A predicted 37 percent of students who are currently in Borlaug's district would be on free and reduced-lunch programs for the 2012-13 school year. Elementary schools such as Twain and Mann are predicted to have 70 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Van Dyke said the district may be shifting students away from those schools to make the number of students on lunch aid seem less high.

"They're moving [Pheasant Ridge students] to Borlaug to make their free and reduced-lunch programs look better," she said. "The district is cherry-picking poor people, who are less vocal, so it's easier for them to manipulate the situation: Moving poor people further to balance out free and reduced lunch [services]."

This move creates problems when those students' parents need to pick them up after class or travel to extracurricular activities, she said, because many lower-income or single-parent families do not own cars.

Skala also said the district is not putting enough thought into the status of Hills Elementary, which was rumored earlier this year to face closing.

"We're going to make decisions that will affect all of our elementary [school] kids without knowing whether Hills will close or not … not knowing how it played a role," she said. "I feel like you're asking us to write a book report, and you give us a book with ripped-out pages, then expect us to know the whole story."

Several parents of children assigned to move to Borlaug asked whether they would be able to keep their children in their current schools. Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said students in sixth-grade or higher will not have to switch, but all other students likely will.

A second draft of the boundary map will be presented at a public forum on May 2, and the final version will be presented May 9. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the maps on May 24.

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