School Board discusses future of West overcrowding

BY LUKE VOELZ | MAY 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City School Board members discussed methods for relieving overcrowding at West High on Monday night.

At a School Board work session, officials noted that the school is 60 students over capacity, and that figure will likely increase to 100 students next year.

Board members said they asked Superintendent Steve Murley to look at increasing gym and cafeteria space at West High, as well as the costs of building a third high school. Board member Toni Cilek said she is mainly concerned as to whether the potential new high school would be justified.

"I want to be clear we're not expending money to a space that would not be needed," she said. "I think as the next couple years unwind, we'll get an even better projection of numbers."

Cilek said she would like to look at changing junior-high boundaries to reduce the number of students who go on to West.

The board also discussed reducing costs at Hills Elementary, which has 35 percent higher operating expenses per student than other elementary schools, according to recent district estimates. Cilek said closing the school is an option, but that would lead to difficulties regarding where to send Hills students.

"I think there was some concern about closing school and its effect on the community, but at the same time, there are financial concerns in terms of continuing to maintain and operate that school," she said.

If Hills closes, Cilek said, officials have no plans to send students to Borlaug Elementary, the district's newest elementary, slated to open in 2012.

At the same time as the work session Monday night, district officials and parents discussed school boundaries for Borlaug, though no decisions were made.

District officials provided parents and faculty with three new boundary drafts at a Weber Elementary public forum, but many parents were still unsatisfied with the modified drafts.

Busing and neighborhood boundaries led some parents to express concerns about the number of students receiving free- and reduced-lunch — the district's measure of poverty — who will attend Borlaug. The first boundary draft had 37 percent of Borlaug students receiving such aid, and new drafts presented a 5 to 8 percent increase.

Weber parent Melinda Bochner cited studies indicating a correlation between high free- and reduced-lunch numbers and low Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores.

"In Iowa City, it looks like schools maintain good Basic Skill scores until 30 percent of students [are on free- and reduced-lunch programs]," she said. "As a parent, my concern is my child's opportunity to learn. I want to give Borlaug a fair shot at being a good school academically."

But Hills parent Julie Van Dyke said free- and reduced-lunch concerns are telling of some community members' views toward lower-income students.

"How can they say that when Twain [Elementary] is 80 percent [free- and reduced-lunch] students?" she said. "That says: Poor people are bad, poor people will harm a child's education. That's saying the new school and facilities are too good for poor people."

The School Board will review the drafts at its May 24 meeting, though Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said she did not believe the members would make a decision at that meeting.

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