Iowa City City Council votes to endorse school district's proposed diversity policy


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Iowa City officials and one local union organization voiced their support for key issues going before the Iowa City School Board. At least one city councilor hopes for clarity between the board and the community regarding plans for the district.

“I think if the community supports this on Feb. 5, we’ll enable the district to undertake the facility imbalances that we currently face,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. 

The revenue purpose statement brings a plan to put local-option funds in the state’s hands; the funds would then be allocated to the district. The School District would be allowed to borrow up to $100 million until 2029 against future sales taxes, allowing the district to decide the use of the funds. The funds would be used to build new elementary schools and restore current facilities.

“If we’re going to be paying the tax anyway, I would certainly much rather that we have that local control as to prioritize how that money gets spent in our district rather than using some set state mandate that may not fit what the needs are in our particular district,” City Councilor Susan Mims said.

School Board member Sarah Swisher agreed with Mims, noting the value of the proposed statement for the community as a whole.

“It’s great for kids, it’s great for the economy, and it gives local control to the citizens of the Iowa City Community School District rather than state control, which would happen a few years down the road if this weren’t passed,” she said.

The Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Building Council announced Tuesday that it formally supports the statement in hopes the proposal will bring an economic boost to the area.

The community will vote on the revenue purpose statement in February, while the School Board will vote on the proposed diversity policy — an attempt to better distribute students who participate in free- and reduced-lunch programs in the district — at its meeting the same day.

The proposed diversity policy aims to address the “socioeconomic and enrollment imbalance” in the district because of the vast differences in the numbers of students participating in free- and reduced-lunch programs in the district. Percentages range from roughly five to 70 percent across the district.

While officials express support, one councilor hopes the School Board is transparent with its future plans despite the inability to publicize plans before the vote.

“It’s not clearly spelled out,” City Councilor Connie Champion said. “And I’d like to see it more clearly spelled out, but that’s not going to happen, and I’m going to have to trust they’ll be fair.”

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