Community proposal for new Iowa City high school sparks debate


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A recent proposal for a third Iowa City School District high school has sparked debate among district parents and community members.

The most recent proposal, filed April 1 by parents from West High, North Central Junior High, and Wickham Elementary, asked the district to build a third high school in North Liberty. Such a school, they said, would give students in North Liberty — who mostly go to West High — a closer school.

"People want to go to schools near their communities," said West High parent Chris Lynch. "People don't want mega schools with up to 3,000 students."

West High is 60 students over capacity, and City High is 200 students below capacity. Though the proposed high school would take some students away from West High, some parents are concerned the district's budget lacks room for a third high school.

"I don't think [a third high school] is necessary," City High parent July Eisele said. "Funds could go to the other two schools. If you're running three high schools on a two-high-school budget, resources are not going to grow much."

School Board member Sara Swisher agreed. Trying to match the offerings of City High and West High to that of a new small school, she said, would cause problems with funding and balance among the city's high schools.

"We have two such great high schools, and if we're not talking about them, we're not doing what we should be doing," she said. "We're looking to utilize City High more so West doesn't overflow. City High needs more numbers."

City High Principal John Bacon said adding to City High would help balance high schools in the district.

"We certainly do recognize the importance for the community to strive for schools that are balanced," he said. "We are under capacity, and we believe we could grow."

Swisher suggested new elementary schools on the East Side would help move students to City High, an idea also advocated in the proposal.

"New elementary schools on the East and West Sides would help with enrollment goals and help the growth of the East Side," Lynch said.

Bacon supported a new elementary school as well.

"It would be exciting to put a new elementary on the East Side," he said. "The last one was built 42 years ago, and it would help address issues on the East Side by attracting new students."

If the district were to move forward with a third high school, Swisher said, funding costs would require it be smaller and lighter on programs than the district's current high schools.

"We're not looking for equal, we're looking for equitable," she said. "We have to know that we're not trying to have the same kind of opportunities [at the proposed school] as the other two schools."

School Board members will further discuss the proposed high school at today's Facilities Committee meeting.

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