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Iowa City school board votes to officially discuss release of SILO funds

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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“Three promises made, one broken,” a community member said after a vote of 4-3 during a Tuesday Iowa City School District meeting.

The board voted in favor of officially discussing changing the language in the superintendent’s limitations. Changing the language would allow SILO funds to be reallocated, moving the dollars away from funding a future high school to being used to help improve current elementary schools.

Most of the community present at the meeting supported the board’s decision. Twelve community members spoke at the board meeting, with 10 in favor of using funds to help the elementary schools and two arguing the money should stay earmarked for the high school.

“I think it’s important to clarify what a mega-school is, which is about 4,000 to 5,000 students,” community member Sarah Richardson said. “The high schools have fewer than 2,000. We are nowhere near a mega-school. It’s important to build or add on to other elementary schools. We have students that need your help.”

Some community members were less than enthusiastic about the board’s decision to continue discussion on changing the language.

“Does it need to be upgraded? Yes. Do all our buildings need to be updated? Yes,” community member Scott Rundell said. “But I’m here specifically for the high school, that is through the SILO tax. You have to remember about the high school that was promised by your predecessors. We voted on it, it was promised, the money was set aside, promises were made by the School District. If you’re going to break that promise, how are we supposed to trust any of you, especially in the next election?”

Board members Tuyet Durau, Jeff McGinness, and Patti Fields were against discussing changing the language at the next board meeting, while Marla Swesy, Sarah Swisher, Karla Cook, and Sally Hoelscher voted to continue talking about the language.

The board members against discussing the language further brought up that there would not be a Comprehensive Facility Plan for using the funds until February, after officials look at the various issues in the district that need to be addressed and estimate the cost.

“The [plan] will be taken to the board in February, after we look at summer projects and get those scoped out and get bids set,” Superintendent Steve Murley said. “We have to talk about 27 facilities and $300 million. It’s like trying to repair the airplane while flying it. We can’t just stop doing anything. An example is Penn [Elementary]. It has issues, and we need to move forward with it. But before we look at long term projects we need to look at more small building projects, those would cost about $10,000 to $15,000.”

A majority of the board wanted to continue discussing removing the language in the superintendent’s limitations to free up SILO funds for more current problems, despite not having a set financial plan.

“Our elementary schools have more urgent needs,” Swisher said. “The language puts those ideas in the lock box while we watch our schools deteriorate. I think it’s easier for administration to produce a plan when they know what resources they have and then they can expand upon it.”

Other members see the lack of a plan an issue that hinders dealing with a large project such as unallocating SILO funds.

“Because we don’t have a plan, it’s too premature to change policy,” Fields said. “It’s a process of great magnitude and we need more information before we discuss it.”


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