Monday, October 19, 2015


In preparation for the upcoming Iowa City Council election on November 3, the Save Hoover Committee submitted the following questions to Council candidates:

1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

The Save Hoover Committee submitted these questions because schools do not exist apart from the communities they serve.  Rather, they are shaped in essential ways by larger approaches to economic development and neighborhood sustainability. Candidate responses are posted below, in alphabetical order.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

It is a bad thing.  Hoover Elementary school is not only a school.  It is not only a park where children can play.  It is a civic institution brimming with social capital.  This is more than about bricks and mortar of where kids learn.  Parents, and kids have pride in that school.  They care about it, and that is reflected in the thoughtful "Save Hoover" campaign.  Other than observation and community conservations, I do not believe that community capital can adequately be measured on a spread sheet.  As an economics major, and math minor in college, I strongly believe in the power of sound financial analysis in decision making; however, I do not believe that numbers should be the only metric to make community decisions.  In addition to numbers, we should also assess community impact, and listen to the opinions of community members impacted by the decision.  

We don't need numbers to show us how strong the Hoover community's connection has been to your school.  You have stayed positive, and thoughtfully expressed concerns to the administration and school board members.  I went to the "Save Hoover" school board meeting last spring, and I was impressed at the passionate and thoughtful dialogue there. As a community, I think we have to be careful about disrupting institutions that already function extremely well.   I do not believe we should take risks with institutions that are already successful.   I support keeping successful institutions open, and that includes Hoover.  A good friend recently reminded me of something that President Obama said in his 2008 campaign, "Our legacy should not be measured by what we tear down, but by what we build together."  That philosophy is consistent with my own, and undergirds my support for keeping Hoover open.  

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

The first thing is rhetorical.  While, of course, we must defer to the ultimate decision of the school board, in my view, the city must clearly express its preference about the importance of neighborhood schools throughout Iowa City.   That rhetorical preference will carry some weight.  

Secondly, we need to meet regularly with the school board.  I know all of the school members pretty well, and in particular, have a close professional relationship with Tom Yates, Phil Hemingway, and Chris Liebig.  I share their views on a variety of school board issues. I also have an enormous amount of respect for Brian Kirschling, Chris Lynch, and Latasha DeLoach and Lori Roetlin.  We have an excellent school board representing a variety of perspectives in our community.  We will need to effectively collaborate on zoning, streets, and healthy neighborhoods for all of our community.  

Thirdly, I would like to continue to explore joint use agreements between school board and the City of Iowa City.  We need to effectively identify ways in which our municipality can use school grounds and school buildings for municipal functions.  This may open up some creative ways in which we can change the conversation on Hoover.  

Ultimately, this must be a school board decision, and I do not want to unduly interfere with the effective functioning of the school board.  Nevertheless, I do support keeping it open.  I will continue to support your civic engagement and constructive dialogue on this important issue.  To the extent that a solution can be found, and our council could be helpful, you will have an open ear from me.   I hope that our school board will find a way to keep Hoover open, expand our inner core neighborhood school, and build schools in new neighborhoods.

While I do believe in keeping Hoover open, and will continue to support your efforts to keep it open, I do think all sides will have to identify a point at which the decision becomes final.  Some already feel that we have reached that point.  I respectfully disagree, and believe we have some time left on the clock to find a solution that will work for all sides, but I do believe we will have to reach a point where we will need to make that decision final, and have some finality.  Our community needs that and our students do too.  

Thank you for your strong civic engagement on this issue.  Despite overwhelming odds, and some negative critics, you have shown persistence, diligence, sound financial analysis, political acumen, and most importantly, heart.  These qualities confirm to me that Hoover is an institution worth saving.  If elected, you will have ally on council.  I will support your efforts to keep Hoover open, and to find a solution that will work for everyone.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

As a Lincoln Elementary alum, former resident of the Longfellow neighborhood, and current resident of the Mann attendance area, I recognize the need to preserve and strengthen our neighborhood schools as much as possible. My sense is that the facilities master plan tried to balance current neighborhood schools with creating the neighborhood schools of the future.  The issues are often complex.  

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

I believe the City of Iowa City needs to work closely with the school district on all issues relating to schools and the neighborhoods around them.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

I have been consistent in supporting the School Directors' policies that favor neighborhood schools. I understand that to many preserving "old" Hoover appears detrimental to this ideal. Based on the information available to me I think the overall plan is sufficiently complex in it's staging that I would prefer to learn more about the issue before offering an opinion. 

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

The Council and the School Board should continue to meet together and share ideas for the greater good of Iowa City and all it's residents. 


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

I think it should be a priority of Iowa City and the ICCSD to work together and show a tangible commitment to our central schools, as opposed to a trend of closing aging, centrally located buildings. Without a doubt some schools in the ICCSD are in need of renovations. I understand these buildings have limitations but I also fully respect their value. My three children have attended two of them and my wife taught at one. These schools are closely tied to the viability of our growing, urban livable city. Schools in established neighborhoods with dense, mixed housing stock contain a naturally diverse population of students, an important issue in ICCSD presently. In addition to growth and needed capacity in outlying areas of ICCSD, central schools are where we need some of our schools to remain. Schools near the U of I and within close range of other amenities and jobs offer an option for urban sustainable living. This will be important to Iowa City moving forward and will attract a variety of people that choose to live here.

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

As a council member I would like to initiate more communication and visionary decision making between the City and the ICCSD. I see a need for an ongoing collaborative relationship between Iowa City and the ICCSD as growth continues for both. I think Iowa City and ICCSD could discuss joint use facilities more often. As a remodeler I can envision more innovative solutions to City High's small, land-locked footprint. The environmentalist in me believes more could be done to promote biking, walking and improvements to public transportation to and from CHS and therefore lessening an emphasis on parking. Walk-able routes such as Court Street need to be made safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. While I respect the vast amount of effort that has gone into our current Facilities Master Plan, I know there is not a one-size-fits all solution to the Hoover issue.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

I was a member of the committee and am a supporter of the ICCSD Master Plan.  I am a proponent of neighborhood stabilization and neighborhood schools.

On balance, I see this as the best of many less than perfect options. Many neighborhood schools are affected by this decision. The new Hoover is necessary in order to efficiently and effectively update and remodel other neighborhood schools, (Longfellow, Mann, and Lincoln) to offer equitable learning environments.

We need to ensure that we have a viable high school in the eastern part of the school district in order to attract new families and to retain those who already live here. People want walkability to all schools - elementary schools, junior highs, and high schools. 

The other elementary schools in the vicinity of Hoover are also great schools, and having a new elementary school on the far eastern side of town will also be a benefit in the long run. 

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

City and school district leaders regularly communicate about common issues. I would expect this to continue, and to address issues related to Hoover where the City could be of assistance.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

Overall, I believe that the closure of Hoover would be bad for Iowa City.  I believe it's a shame for the community to be drifting away from neighborhood schools, and moving towards schools on the outside corners of the city.

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

The lack of any solid rationale from the school district on their plans for that area is unacceptable. The City Council should demand clear answers from the School Board on the true reasons for the closure, and their clear and transparent plans for the use of that space.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

On balance, closing Hoover would be bad for Iowa City. “Healthy Neighborhoods” is one of the points of emphasis in my campaign platform, “4-Points for a Better, Healthier Iowa City”. “Healthy neighborhoods” benefit when neighborhood schools are located within a safe, easy walking or biking distance from the surrounding neighborhood. Iowa City’s 8 eastside elementary schools are placed roughly 1-mile apart, making walking distances to all schools at most a 15-minute walk. Promoting walkability has many public benefits: reducing auto-dependence and promoting active transportation (i.e., walking and biking); encouraging a child’s sense of independence; and strengthening a neighborhood’s identity and sense of community and sociability.

Closing Hoover would also reduce the number of students able to attend schools in Iowa City’s core neighborhoods, while increasing enrollment at the periphery. This enrollment shift weakens the health of the central neighborhoods, portions of which have already been de-stabilized by high percentages of short-term residents. In addition, the de-stabilization of Iowa City’s core neighborhoods further isolates the Downtown from a more diverse population capable of supporting community-oriented retail establishments.      

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

City Council should engage the Iowa City Community School District in a discussion of how the two jurisdictions could help one another by sharing the capital and operating costs of their respective facilities. A joint-use agreement between the two parties could potentially include the following elements:

  • Use of Hoover Elementary School’s buildings and/or grounds by the Hoover neighborhood when school is not in session
  • Use of Iowa City parks by City High’s athletic programs, e.g., tennis, softball or baseball (City High already plays baseball at Mercer Park), in accordance with an agreed-upon schedule
  • Provision by Iowa City of safe walking and bicycle routes to Hoover Elementary and City High
  • Provision by Iowa City of dedicated ICCSD staff parking on public rights-of-way near Hoover and City High to reduce the need for off-street parking on ICCSD property.


1.  Hoover Elementary is slated to be closed and torn down in 2019.  On balance, do you see the Hoover closure as good or bad for Iowa City?

I would strongly prefer that it remain open. Successful neighborhoods (i.e., ones that are diverse, walkable, and affordable) need K-6 schools that can easily and safely be accessed on foot by their students. Likewise, successful K-6 schools are ones that are provide a high quality education for a diversity of students, and which enable their students to learn from the neighborhoods within which they are embedded. As a Council candidate I want to incrementally thicken and improve our existing neighborhoods, and to work with the School Board to ensure that our existing neighborhood schools are well-maintained, well-staffed, and have the resources required to provide their students with a high quality education.

That said, I am fully aware that the District Administration calculates that smaller schools (e.g., 300 students) are much more expensive to operate on a per capita basis than are larger ones (e.g., 500 students). (A downside to larger schools is, however, that they inevitably seem to involve much larger sites and parking lots, both of which undermine the long-term sustainability of the neighborhoods in which they are embedded. For reasons I do not understand, this does not seem to be a concern of the District Administration.) Moreover, I am fully aware that the Facilities Master Plan calls for a complicated series of intertwined steps involving Hoover's closure, expansion of City High's facilities, construction of a New Hoover on the far east side, and upgrades to Mann and Longfellow schools (which, according to the Administration, cannot be accomplished without construction of New Hoover). I have several questions about this intertwined set of steps, and I would want to see key parties engage in a dialogue that results in answers that I and others would find persuasive. See below.

2.  What, if anything, should the City Council do to work with the school district on the Hoover closure issue?

Ultimately, the decision is up to the School Board. We Council members can communicated, advise, and discuss the topic with board members, but in the end it is their decision. I have spoken with all of the current School Board members about it, and I have excellent relationships with them.  In those conversations I have said I think it would be wise for the Board to convene one or more meetings focusing directly on the intertwined set of steps mentioned above. The meetings would involve affected parties, such as Hoover parents, District staff, City High advocates, etc. Such meetings could easily become shouting matches, but, if well designed, they would not. I strongly believe in the value of dialogue oriented toward mutual understanding. This means relevant parties should be able to ask their questions, express their views, hear the other side respond, and reply constructively to the response.

In addition to communicating with School Board members, the City Council's most important role is to ensure that existing neighborhoods remain appealing to parents with school aged children. This is a matter of making incremental investments that enhance the quality of those neighborhoods, I also think that new neighborhoods should be designed to be walkable, diverse, and have an a reasonable mix of uses and housing types/costs.

Monday, September 7, 2015


Caroline Sheerin shares all the good reasons for voting for Chris Liebig in her Sept. 6 Press-Citizen letter:

I am writing to express my support for Chris Liebig, who is running for Iowa City School Board this year in the election to fill the two-year seat. I have known Chris for ten years now, as a colleague, a neighbor and a friend. In addition to being an excellent team player at work and a stalwart friend, Chris has many other qualities that will serve him well in this position.
First, he is whip-smart. He is one of the clearest thinkers I know — he has an uncanny ability to analyze an issue thoroughly, while being fair to all involved. Related to that, he is also a man of great integrity. I have never known him to be swayed by anything other than the truth. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for a member of the School Board, Chris is not afraid of detail. Indeed, he takes almost a perverse pleasure in reading the most complicated and convoluted documents and boiling them down to their essential points.
With his background as a lawyer and a long commitment to improving education, I believe Chris Liebig is just the person our School Board needs.


In his Sept. 6 letter in the Press-Citizen, Lou Messerle describes the needed cultural change that electing Phil Hemingway, Chris Liebig, and Brian Richman will bring to the school board:

It took two years for a board member to admit that closing a school, in a growing district, is needed to provide land for City High. The board still won’t say how the non-contiguous land will be used. A baseball field, parking lot? This secretive, non-justified, ultimately expensive decision of two years ago is continuing the pattern of building larger, expensive schools on ICCSD edges, often on developer-donated land, increasing busing costs and neglecting eastside neighborhoods. The supposedly community-vetted Facilities Master Plan is, in the view/desire of many board candidates, immutable, even though it has been modified recently for some eastside neighborhood schools, and will be again. The community needs an ICCSD board culture change, replacing poorly-responsive, we-know-what’s-best members, subservient to the administration, who make major decisions with little or no community input. Roosevelt, Hoover; is your neighborhood school next?
I write, as a taxpayer and parent of former Hoover and CHS students, to urge fellow voters to learn the candidates’ positions, especially on blindly following the FMP, despite its considerable costs in closing and demolishing one larger, newer school and replacing it (New Hoover). Your due diligence will lead you to Phil Hemingway, Chris Liebig and Brian Richman, who will provide that needed culture change. Otherwise, I and other citizens may vote against the upcoming bond issue, given our loss of trust.


Anne and Vern Dengler write about the importance of supporting neighborhood schools in their September 6 Press-Citizen letter:

For many years, the School Board has been looking for ways to justify closing Hoover for use by City High. As recently as July, the board would not give an explanation for plans for Hoover property. One indication of possible future Hoover use, according to the Master Facilities Plan, is for another softball field, and reconstruction of tennis courts displaced by a wrestling addition for a third wrestling mat.
It’s interesting that the April 13 Press-Citizen reported the district MFP now includes $17 million in athletic facilities, and Superintendent Murley stated the district would seek additional funds through the bond referendum vote planned for fall 2017.
A few years ago, it was suggested that City High additions of classrooms, library and cafeteria space, could not be completed without Hoover land. Phase I, for half of the classrooms, is under construction. The remainder of additions will be built on existing City High property. Recommended projected capacity of City, West, and Liberty is sufficient for projected high school enrollment.
Hoover demolition and facility replacement may exceed $10 million. This means $5.5 million additional cost for City High athletic facilities. The MFP has worthwhile projects, facilities need to be maintained, but demolition of any high performing, neighborhood elementary schools for athletic facilities is not the best use of tax dollars. Paraphrasing the NCAA, most post-high school endeavors will involve “going pro” in something other than athletics. Support our neighborhood schools.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


Meg Ketterer describes the district-wide support for Save Hoover in her Sept. 5 Press-Citizen article:

If I believed all the misinformation being put forward about the “Save Hoover” group, I would not recognize myself.
We are not a “small group” of malcontents lately formed to promote a “single issue.” We are several hundred members of the community distributed everywhere in the ICCSD. We organized in 2013 when the school board chose to disregard the community’s expressed priority in maintaining neighborhood schools and, as with Roosevelt Elementary, voted to target Hoover School.
The community’s “hard work” that led to the Facilities Master Plan did not cast that plan in stone. The FMP is a work in progress, for preserving and improving our neighborhood schools.
Programming at all the area high schools should be equitable, but “equity” does not mean acreage. City High does not need Hoover School’s site so that its lawn can match that of West High. Celebrate the unique environments of the different schools.
Growth on Iowa City’s east side justifies building a new elementary school, and that school should certainly be built with a plan for the future. Use the millions of dollars that would be spent in tearing down a thriving elementary school to build a new school with capacity for future growth.
Chris Liebig, Brian Richman, Phil Hemingway and Tom Yates are candidates for the School Board who have offered a vision for the future, a respect for the vitality of our neighborhoods, transparency in action and decision-making and solid financial sense.


Melanie Sigafoose writes about the importance of candidates willing to adjust the FMP as circumstances change in the Sept. 3 Press-Citizen:

As we approach the Sept. 8 School Board election, there are some candidates who have said that they would not change the district’s long-term facilities plan, and some who believe that the plan should be changed and improved.
I support candidates who believe that the long-term plan can be changed and improved. In particular, it is simply untrue that we cannot reach our goals without closing one of our elementary schools. No one has made a convincing case that the City High addition cannot be built without closing Hoover Elementary, or that the only possible way to renovate older schools is by closing a school, or that we can’t build and open new schools unless we close existing ones.
The people in this district have consistently opposed school closures every time the district has solicited their input. It is important for the district to stay faithful to the message it received from the community.
I will be voting for the candidates who understand that long-term planning is an ongoing process and who are willing to think critically to improve existing plans: Phil Hemingway, Chris Liebig, Brian Richman, and Tom Yates.

Friday, September 4, 2015


Is that all there is?

Yesterday—the Thursday afternoon before Election Day—our school district released a “City High 6 Year Preview” that was plainly designed to influence the election.

It’s been over two years since the board voted to close Hoover.  During that time, people have repeatedly asked the board for a better explanation of why Hoover should be closed and why we can’t achieve our facilities goals without a closing a school.  Just this summer, the board asked the administration for a better explanation of how the Hoover land would be used, and the administration replied that it would take $400,000 to answer that question.  All of the board candidates have had to take stands on the issue, which has become one of the most discussed issues in the election.  Now, just five days before the election, the district releases a “Preview” of its plans for City High (which apparently didn’t cost $400,000 after all).

The timing of the Preview raises real questions about the district’s use of public resources to sway an election, and sends the message that the district will communicate only when it is suddenly worried about an election outcome.

Most importantly, the Preview does not provide a convincing rationale for closing Hoover.  The Preview states that parking, outdoor athletic facilities, and green space are likely to be displaced by the City High addition, and simply asserts that if they are displaced, there will be “reduced access for all students” and “reduced engagement by students with additional barriers to participation.”  The Preview does not attempt to quantify the amount of land that will be required for the addition—which is likely to be very small compared to the Hoover property—or explain why the necessary facilities cannot be accommodated without closing the school.  In other words, the Preview adds little to the arguments that we’ve heard all along for why Hoover must be closed, which ultimately come down to “Because the superintendent says so—and please don’t look behind that assertion.”

To make matters worse, the Preview includes an “operational cost comparison” between medium- and large-sized schools that cannot withstand even brief scrutiny.  Michael Tilley’s post here shows how the generic costs in the chart bear no resemblance to Hoover’s actual costs—and, if they’re accurate, demonstrate that Hoover is not only more efficient than the “medium” school, but even more efficient than the “large” school!

We need board members who will scrutinize the information supplied by the administration, rather than simply accept whatever assertions the administration provides.  Please consider voting for Phil Hemingway, Brian Richman, Tom Yates, and Chris Liebig this Tuesday, September 8.