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School Board moves on controversial redistricting plans

BY EMILY FRIESE | OCTOBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City School District will have to wait a little longer for an update on renovations and new schools.

Sparking much debate, the School Board met Tuesday evening to discuss redistricting, which appears to play a larger role in the new $250 million Facilities Master Plan. The redistricting timeline affects the decision on the order, Superintendent Steve Murley said.

The local district is the fifth largest in the state, with roughly 12,774 students in 25 different schools. Because of rising enrollment numbers, planning has become important in redistricting.

Under the projected new plan, three new elementary schools and one new high school will open, in addition to renovations for existing schools.

Under the new measure, Murley estimated the redistricting timeline would be pushed forward to this upcoming spring in order to begin implementation by the fall of 2014.

A number of board members questioned such action.

Board member Jeff McGuiness said he was concerned about waiting another year to implement recently approved policies, as well as with making progress toward other issues, such as overcrowding in schools.

“Redistricting was supposed to happen in May,” he said. “Are you telling me we’ll go another year without any redistricting to accomplish the goal of the diversity policy?”

While the goal is to accomplish things as quickly as possible, Murley said, numerous steps must be followed.

“We wanted to make sure we knew where the district was going with the Facilities Master Plan and now with the phasing plan to make sure our alignment of our redistricting plan aligns with the opening of those schools,” he said. “Part of the process involves approval of parents and the community, and that takes time.”

Instead of waiting to see if things pass, McGuiness said, tighter deadlines for the district to work toward are needed.

“If it turns out that we fail in that timeline and we can’t get it done, without even trying to meet a deadline and trying to get it done, that’s completely inappropriate,” he said.

Board member Chris Lynch agreed, saying hard work is necessary to move forward.

“I think our priority in the next month should be finalizing the Facilities Master Plan,” he said. “Let’s get going on this.”

Noting that it is possible to implement redistricting within a calendar year, Murley maintained that it would not offer sufficient time for parents to transition.

“We want to know where students are going and want to minimize the transitions they’ll have to take to get there,” he said.

Board President Sally Hoelscher said she would like to see the district try to get the redistricting timeline done as soon as possible.

“If we couldn’t get it done, then we could certainly make that decision later,” she said. “But if we don’t try, it won’t get done.”

Because of inconclusiveness among the board members on redistricting, no action was taken on the agenda item. Instead, the subject was pushed forward to the next meeting, Oct. 22.

But for board member Patti Fields, the matter is more than looking at a number or percentage.

“We’re looking at programs and their effects on the schools,” she said. “It’s not as simple as moving kids around.”

Julie Eisele, a Shimek Elementary parent, said while she has confidence in the School Board in finishing the task, she would like to see things implemented sooner rather than later.

“I understand it can be complicated by the fact that we have a lot of new facilities coming online soon, but I’d like to see them deal with both as soon as possible,” she said.” We have a history of dragging our feet. We have to be patient, yet we can’t let this go on forever.”


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