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Editorial: New board members will have a big job

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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Today, voters will elect three of the nine candidates running to serve on the Iowa City School Board. This year’s School Board election will be considerably more important than in previous years given the major concerns currently facing the board.

Whoever is elected to the School Board will presumably help decide future plans for the area’s schools as it relates to reorganizing and expanding the district, which will have implications for Iowa City’s K-12 students for decades to come.

These changes are influenced in part by the district’s estimate that an influx of approximately 3,000 more students will attend Iowa City schools over the next 10 years.

In July, the School Board had two options for reorganizing the area’s public schools, both of which involved closing some schools, building some new schools, and expanding existing facilities. The board opted to put off deciding which route to take, though later that month — in spite of substantial public outcry — voted to close Hoover Elementary sometime after the spring of 2018.

In the past, we have encouraged the School Board to avoid closing schools as much as possible. The Editorial Board stands by its previous statements and hopes that whoever wins the election will work to keep school closures to a minimum.

As we previously explained, closing schools hurts local property values and negatively affects short-term student achievement, and the general public appears to be strongly opposed to it.

In addition to avoiding school closures where possible, improving equality is a must for educating the youth of Iowa City. Over just the past year, the School District has done commendable work, making access to technological resources such as computers, high-speed Internet, SMART boards, and projectors much more consistent among schools.

Another key component to promoting equality among Iowa City schools is the new diversity policy. It was passed in February and sought to even the distribution of students on the free- and reduced-lunch program (used as a proxy measure of poverty), which at the time varied by as much as 65 percentage points among schools.

The mechanisms by which this policy will be carried out remain unclear, although several candidates have proposed using magnet schools. These types of schools typically offer specialized academic programs or teaching styles in an attempt to attract students of different backgrounds. Nevertheless, magnet schools’ effectiveness in drawing together a diverse crowd is a matter of debate.

However the School Board decides to implement the diversity policy, distribute future resources, and handle the schools’ reorganization, students in Iowa City’s public schools will live with the repercussions for years to come. Residents in the Iowa City area need to choose their representatives on the School Board wisely.

According to election results from the Johnson County Auditor’ Office, voter turnout in the last School Board election, in 2011, was just over 6 percent with comparably dismal voting records in previous years.

Our point is not to chastise the voters of Iowa City for being lazy or apathetic about local schools. This level of voter turnout is typical in much of the United States.

But in light of low voter turnout, it does mean that every single vote carries much more weight. Coupled with big decisions on the horizon for the School Board, that means that the people of Iowa City have an awful lot of power at their disposal. We encourage them to use it.


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