Iowa City School District parents offer support, criticism of administrators over elementary school redistricting plans


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Iowa City School District parents gave mixed support to district administrators during a discussion on elementary-school redistricting at a public forum Thursday.

The forum focused on the second draft of redistricting plans for Hills, Twain, Longfellow, and Wood Elementary Schools in order to address overcrowding concerns at Wood. The first draft of redistricting plans presented last month is still being considered as well.

Concerns about Longfellow, which will lose students from certain neighborhoods to Twain and Wood and receive students from other Twain neighborhoods, formed a key point of parent discussion.

"They're moving 264 kids around the elementary schools, and minimal goals are being achieved in addressing overcrowding," said Kelli Kucera, a Longfellow parent. "Why disrupt these 264 kids to really not have any gains?"

Under the second draft of redistricting plans presented for the 2013-14 school year, Longfellow's attendance would be reduced from 349 to 304 and Wood's would be reduced from 514 to 507. Twain's would increase from 226 to 391, and Hills attendance would increase from 107 to 176.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said the main point of the redistricting plans are to solve overcrowding.

"We know that we are swiftly running out of available space," she said. "We want to ensure that whatever we propose to the superintendent addresses long-term issues."

Yet Kucera said the district isn't really trying to solve the problem of overcrowding.

"It's not solving anything," she said. "It's just a quick fix to look like they're addressing the issues."

One parent told administrators he thinks it is pointless to have students switch schools when it is likely that redistricting issues will come up again.

"This plan gives [Longfellow] a relief of 13 students," said Brent Bormann, a Longfellow parent. "What that tells me is we're going to be dealing with capacity issues again. Why should I invest in the Twain community or wherever you put us? Why should I invest in that community when I might move again?"

Yet some parents applauded the School Board and administration for their efforts.

"[Administrators] made the attempt to do the big redistricting thing," said Sara Barron, a Wood parent. "I think that plan was torpedoed by people who are afraid of change."

At the forum, Barron told administrators to continue in the face of opposition.

"Stop listening to parents who are always going to be fierce advocates for their children," she said. "You're bigger than that. Your job is to make the best decision for all of the kids regardless of whether it's a popular choice, [but] because it's the right thing to do."

University of Iowa Assistant Professor Rick Mergenthaler, a district parent, told the crowd that parental debate over redistricting decisions ultimately comes down to children.

"This isn't about west versus east. This isn't about rich versus poor," he said. "It's about kids."

Mergenthaler voiced his concerns about children making friends if they are continually moved.

"The first guiding principle I think would be really great for the board is stability," he said. "My concern is if we do things from different school, it means for a horrible experience [in terms of kids making friends]. This is about strengthening kids."

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