School Board candidate Hemingway holds first listening post event

BY BRIAN ALBERT | JUNE 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Phil Hemingway envisions a community of collaboration and honesty, he said before a small audience at the Iowa City Public Library Monday.

The candidate for the Iowa City School Board held his first of what he said will be many listening posts, outlining the foundations of his platform, which included transparency in spending, the reduction of unnecessary expenses, and the preservation of quality education programs for the city’s youth.

“The most vital and important thing is to have competent, educated, highly motivated teachers in front of our kids,” said the auto shop owner owner. “That’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s my stand.”

Hemingway, a 51-year-old West Branch native who has a daughter attending a school in the Iowa City School District, expressed his displeasure about several recent School Board budget decisions, including the purchase of a $154,000 garbage truck, and plans regarding the construction of an $85,000 car wash.

“Sometimes, it’s OK to have second-class equipment for whatever department,” he said, adding he believes the money could have been better used by purchasing smart boards or upgrading school computers. “But it’s never OK to give a second-class education to kids. Work with what you have, and don’t sacrifice what’s actually the most important thing.”

Hemingway’s second concern was improving transparency between the board and constituents. Taxpayers, parents, and students all have a right to know how cash is allotted, he said.

“People can really only make informed decisions when they have enough information,” Hemingway said. “Money will be the dominant issue going forward, so I think people should know where it’s going and how it will or won’t directly affect them.”

He has been an active voice at School Board meetings over the past year and a half, as the board has dealt with issues concerning redistricting, asbestos screening, and lead exposure.

One attendee at the listening post, Brent DeNeice, a teacher at City High, 1900 Morningside Drive, raised the idea of “super” elementary schools as a fix for redistricting issues.

“People had a big problem with redistricting messing up their routines and their transportation schedules,” DeNeice said. “If one of these huge elementary schools were to be made, would it be for new areas or would it include such schools as Twain, Lucas, and Hoover?”

Hemingway responded saying he was “not a fan of the ‘bigger is better’ way of thinking,” and in his experience small schools were better of.

Another attendee, Hani Elkadi, an art instructor at Kirkwood Community College, asked Hemingway about special education, voter apathy, and the feasibility of magnet schools.

“Every single year, the number of special-needs children in our schools rises,” Elkadi said. “You can either have special programs for these kids, or you can integrate them into normal classes.”

A one-size-fits-all mentality for Iowa City schools, Hemingway said, won’t work because some will need special attention.

“But I think there are huge benefits to integrating everyone and letting the students help each other,” he said.

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