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Iowa City School District shows greater increase in enrollment than expected

BY LAUREN COFFEY | APRIL 03, 2013 5:00 AM

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Members of the Iowa City School District formally sat down for the first time Tuesday night to discuss a report indicating that the district’s enrollment has increased by 1,852 students in the past 10 years.

“… [enrollment] remains over 100 percent across the board,” said Tracy Richter, who created the report. “That’s not something you see every day.”

An original report by David Dude, the director of operations in the School District, released last month, found that two of the three high schools in the district — West High and City High — are operating over capacity.  The report also said that enrollment is at over capacity at nearly all of the 19 elementary schools.

The district used consulting firm DeJong-Richter to evaluate the enrollment in the district after Dude’s report was released.

One of the findings showed that although there is overflow in the schools, there is also a high rate of students leaving the School District.

“In a world of choice, open enrollment frightens people,” Richter said. “You don’t know why some people leave, but obviously, some people will come here, too.”

Local resident Julie Van Dyke said the issue isn’t an alarming one.

“I’ve been following open enrollment for the past three years, and comparing the ins and outs [of students],” she said. “It used to be that there were three outs and one in. Now, for every 13 outs, there is one in. The people in the community say ,‘Good, it’s cheaper for them to go.’ That attitude is insane. We need to educate our kids. We can do it better than anyone else can.”

The criticism over the high enrollments in the schools has been ongoing, and many people in recent months have called on the district to build a new high school. School Board members did not decide to vote on any propositions Tuesday evening but instead decided to wait to discuss the findings in a more relaxed environment.

“I’m not sure if we’ll vote on it tonight,” board member Sarah Swisher said. “We have a retreat this Saturday, which is an all-day event, and we’ll want to hash it out in a more leisurely environment than a board meeting.”

The board members overall were happy with the data, noting the problem of overcrowding is more preferable than the alternative of too many students leaving.

“We do have to realize how thankful we are to be in this situation,” School Board President Marla Swesey said.

Superintendent Steve Murley agreed with Swesey.

“It’s good to be in a growing community; it’s a sign that it’s healthy,” he said. “We weathered the storm. People have said we’re an anomaly because we’ve grown in the recession. Our community is very healthy, and if we focus on this, we can turn it into a real opportunity for the community and the city as well.”


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