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Iowa City School District continues discussion on new high school funds

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Focus on the future or handle problems in the present? That is the question facing Iowa City School Board members as they decide how to allocate existing funds.

The Governance Committee met Monday to discuss removing language from a School Board policy that earmarks $32 million for a new high school.

The board decided on two superintendent-limitation policies in 2007: One stipulates that the superintendent needs to retain $20 million toward elementary schools and the other reserves $32 million for construction of a new high school from SILO funds.

Those limitations were set for 2007-2017. It was also added that if, after 10 years, the board decided to not approve the construction of the facilities, the retained revenue could be released for other uses.

The Governance Committee decided to discuss removing the language at the next full School Board meeting, on Sept. 18. Four school board members make up the Governance Committee: Tuyet Dorau, Sarah Swisher, Marla Swesey, and Jeff McGinness.

If the language reserving the $32 million is removed, the funds currently allocated for the future high school would most likely go toward improving the elementary schools.

During the committee meeting, Swisher was in favor of freeing up the funds.

“The Governance Committee is planning on bringing it up for discussion at the next board meeting,” Swisher said. “Nobody’s trying to be anything other than transparent.”

Swesey also agreed that discussing the language at the board meting will provide transparency and give the public a chance to voice their opinion.

“I’m in favor of bringing [this decision] to attention of the School Board,” Swesey said. “I think it’s a transparent thing to do, since we had a facilities meeting and five of the board members wanted to bring it up. This time we can have it on public record and give people a chance to discuss it. I think it’s a healthy exchange for the board to do so.”

However, Dorau said the process for this decision is not conducive to allowing community members a chance to give their opinion.

“Typically, when you have a policy change, you have three chances for the board to discuss it as well as having a public forum,” she said. “There is not [a public forum] for this policy. When we’ve done major policies in the past, we’ve had numerous public forums. I think we should give community members the opportunity to share their opinion."

A handful of community members were split on the decision about reallocating the funds.

“My attitude toward this is I’m tired of broken promises,” community member Julie VanDyke said. “I don’t think they should ‘unallocate’ the funds. I think they should keep their promises [about funding the new high school].”

But others said the current needs of elementary schools outweigh the need for a new high school.

“I think it’s appropriate,” community member Phil Hemingway said. “There’s a greater need for elementary schools and capacity than there is for a fourth high school.”


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