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Iowa City City Council to discuss school district policy proposals tonight

BY STACEY MURRAY | JANUARY 22, 2013 6:30 AM

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The proposed diversity policy before the Iowa City School Board may soon have the support of city officials.

The Iowa City City Council will vote tonight on a resolution to either support or oppose the proposed diversity policy and the purpose revenue statement for the School District. The diversity policy seeks to better distribute students who participate in free- and reduced-lunch programs in the district.

Iowa City city staff believe endorsing the diversity policy and revenue purpose statement will aid city and School Board officials in addressing “socioeconomic and enrollment imbalance” in the School District.

The diversity policy defines minorities as “students who are receiving free or reduced-price lunches offered under the district’s nutrition program” and the non-minority students as those not receiving them.

It aims to even out the percentages of students receiving free and reduced lunches to encourage socioeconomic diversity in the schools and to better the education of the student population.

While some look positively on the policy, not all have been receptive. The policy narrowly passed on a 4-3 vote at the last School Board meeting.

“Obviously, this has stirred up some passion in some folks, and I think it’s natural because it’s natural for parents to be interested in their kids’ educations,” School Board member Sally Hoelscher said. “I think every person who has spoken for or against this policy has the interest of the kids in the district in mind. There’s just a difference about the best way to address the issues.”

If the policy passes, Superintendent Steve Murley and the administration would be responsible for implementing the policy. In order to equalize the percentages, officials have options such as building new schools and creating magnet schools — schools with special draws to encourage students to seek education at other schools and minimize differences in the poverty levels.

Currently, the district’s schools are unevenly matched when it comes to distribution of the lunch programs — Wickham Elementary has 5.5 percent of its students participating, and Twain Elementary has 70.8 percent.

School Board member Sarah Swisher attributes the growing polarization of the schools’ diversity to a snowball effect. She said the schools that first experienced lower scores from a lack of diversity caused the non-minorities to leave the district, furthering the gap. In order to homologize the district’s diversity, the board must find ways to better combine the various populations.

“We have to figure out what attracts people back in,” Swisher said. “That’s our job, and it’s the only way to get there. What I don’t think is OK is to leave the situation just the way it is.”

Officials outside of the School Board also agree they need to keep education a priority in Iowa City, despite disagreeing on the best way to improve it. The City Council will demonstrate its support or opposition at its meeting.

“I think making classrooms more diverse in terms of a wide range of kids from all sorts of households would be a good thing,” City Councilor Rick Dobyns said. “When you sit in a classroom, what’s on the chalkboard isn’t the only part of the classroom. Who sits next to you is a part of the education.”


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