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School Board gives final push before election

BY GRETA MEYLE | SEPTEMBER 06, 2013 5:00 AM

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Inching progressively closer to voting day, the nine candidates battling for seats on the Iowa City School Board remain unshaken ahead of next week’s election. With only four days left until the conclusive decision of the public, candidates are doing all that they can to persuade the voters.

Attacking the issues of equal education, the frequency of redistricting, the effect of building a South Side Iowa City elementary school, and aims at increasing Hills Elementary enrollment, candidates strived to further sway opinion through their personal statements and answers to five questions written by the Coalition for the Greater Hills Community. Given a one-minute period to answer each question, the nominees’ postulations and incentives regarding the year approaching were challenged.

West Side parent Tuyet Dorau was unable to attend for unsaid reasons.

Hosted at the Hills Community Center, many of the issues discussed were focused on what the board would do to up Hill’s enrollment as well tackle the controversy of Hill school being previously put on the agenda for closing.

While all contestants were open to increasing Hill’s enrollment and ensuring equality, each expressed their own approaches.

Chris Lynch, Jim Tate, Phil Hemingway, and Greg Geerdes postulated listening to the community with diversity in strategy, while Jason Lewis and Karla Cook believed in creating magnet schools to promote enrollment.

For Brian Kirschling, students should be given the option of attending Hills if they so wished to, while Sara Barron said students shouldn’t need motivation to attend the district’s smallest school, because its being a “great school” should be enough.

“District action can fill or empty any school, and what we’ve seen at Hills is an example of that,” Hemingway said. “The board needs to adopt a policy that says, ‘We’re in Hills for the long run, Hills is a successful community, and if people take off, the board actions support it.’ ”

To close, candidates addressed what challenges they might face and what they would look back on accomplishing if voted in. Geerdes zeroed in on the possible detriment of the construction plans, while Lewis and Lynch focused on communication, Lynch with administration, and Lewis with an emphasis on a focus on student education at the forefront.

For current board Vice President Karla Cook, an emphasis should be placed on removing students from temporaries, with a focus on promoting educational programming, while Hemingway focused on regaining community trust.

Barron said the district needs to look outward and bring good ideas in to consideration to better the state’s fifth largest school system.

While candidate Jim Tate focused on specified classroom technologies, Kirschling focused on establishing equity all around.

“We need to ensure that no matter where you go, your kids will get a great education. It is unhealthy to the whole community to have perceptions of good and bad schools,” Kirschling said.

All contestants put their best foot forward but the true resolution to all issues will show in coming years and ultimately at the election when community members narrow nominees from nine to three. Community opinions varied but mainly centered on equality and honesty.

“It’s hard to trust people when they’re in front of the public,” said Marv Marner, 17-year resident of the area. “When you elect someone, they tend to lose what they stood for and not follow through with their intentions.”

Online blogger and fellow 17-year Iowa City area resident Chris Liebig has been following the debate for its entirety. Having three kids in the local public school system, he says he is also ready to see changes made:

“I think people are starting to think about the implications of this plan [to add a South Side school] and what it will mean for the schools that will still be very small like Lincoln, Shimek, and Hills,” Liebig said. “I think there’s [a prevalent] fear that there will be a pressure to close those schools once the construction ends.”

Voting will occur four days from today, and North Liberty resident Amy Nielson, like many community members, has her own criteria for selecting three candidates:

“I’m looking for consistency,” she said. “[Consistency] in their statements, proven experience, and the ability to work with a team and the community.”


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