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Community members set the bar for School Board

BY EMILY FRIESE | SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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With the arrival of a new school year, locals say higher expectations should come about following today’s School Board elections.

On Monday evening, the Iowa City School Board held its semi-monthly meeting at the Education Services Center to go over a number of housekeeping items.

In light of the possibility of three new board members, many community members voiced their concerns on what should be of utmost focus in future action.

Upon introduction to fresh-faced student representatives, the current seven-member board was met with a number of concerns, as well as insight into the successes of a number of recently implemented policies.

City High representative and senior class President Cassidy Bringle, thanked the board for new additions to the school, including a nearly $6 million fine-arts wing and repainting of a school gymnasium.

She also noted positive additions to the schools advanced-placement lineup in psychology, music theory, studio art, and literature and composition.

“For kids who want to further their knowledge, it’s a great way for kids to challenge themselves,” she said, adding that the number of of students taking those classes have recently increased from 550 to 820, before a jump to 983 for the roughly 1,400-student high school.

Justin Barry, a representative from West High, expressed his concerns with overcrowding at the West Side Iowa City school, particularly in hallways and temporary classrooms, saying that class sizes have increased over the past couple of years, which limits student-to-teacher interaction.

“For some courses, we no longer have room for students,” he said. “We currently have a 40 person waiting list for a grammar class. This really shows that we are growing, and it’s too big to support student wants and needs.”

The board approved student-to-teacher class size ratios for the upcoming year, with grades K-two at 24 students per teacher, grades three-six at 28 students, grades seven-eight with 30 students, and grades nine-12 with 32 students. Board members said the class sizes might vary depending on the number of students at each school.

With overcrowded schools, this may prove to be a difficult task.

Marla Swesey, president of the School Board, said she is confident with how class sizing has been handled in the past and how it will work in the future.

“We talk a lot about that to our administrators,” she said. “These numbers are numbers we worked with last year. They’re aware one size doesn’t fit all and that there are different needs for each building. “

Akash Borde, a West High representative, said for him, concern lies in the efficiency of a learning environment that lacks air conditioning.

All schools in the district with and without proper air-conditioning systems have dismissed early due to the intense heat over the course of the past two weeks. A two-hour early dismissal will take place again today.

“Some of West High’s classrooms are not air conditioned, which makes it a rather difficult learning environment,” Borde said. “We would like air conditioning to be a priority of the board for the future.”

Phil Hemingway, a School Board candidate, expressed his concerns about how the board has handled finances for things such as new parking additions, flood insurance, bus costs and student transition needs.

“We pay $174,000 for administrative parking,” he said. “We have a $260 million identified student and facilities need, but administrative needs come first. Slight inconveniences with parking can be dealt with much easier than the students dealing with 100 degree classrooms.”

Community member Julie Van Dyke said her main concern came down to the board’s transparency. She said the public did not know that Twain Elementary would receiver a 12,000-foot addition because the Operations Committee meetings were not televised for public viewing.

“Mr. Murley’s staff give their reports during committee meetings that are not televised, so these very important reports, when put up, give a less detailed version for the public to see,” she said.  “[The School Board] has overseen the most loss of transparency than any other board.”


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