Thursday, September 3, 2015


This morning, the North Corridor Parents came out with its endorsements for next week's school board election, and all of Save Hoover's candidates--Phil Hemingway, Tom Yates, Chris Liebig, and Brian Richman--received the organization's endorsement.  You can read their full endorsement message here.  While the NCP also endorsed Lori Roetlin, Todd Fanning, and Shawn Eyestone--candidates who have not voiced a willingness to revisit the Facilities Master Plan, the NCP's endorsement of the Save Hoover candidates is telling.

Here is concrete proof that people from across the district realize closing Hoover is not just about one elementary school; it speaks to much larger issues such as transparency, responsiveness to community input, ensuring we make the best financial decisions, and taking the entire district's needs into account--east, west, north, south, among others.

Hoover must stay open, not only for those children who learn within its walls, but for the long-term benefit of the entire ICCSD.  Help us spread the word and don't forget to vote September 8!


Holly Hart writes in support of two of Save Hoover's candidates, Tom Yates and Brian Richman, in the September 2 Press-Citizen:

The upcoming school board election has drawn a great deal of attention and offers an unusually large number of candidates.
As an educator, with a respected teaching career at City High, Tom Yates will provide valuable insights and experience vital to the school board. He has a vision of what education should provide and a clear commitment to the well-being and educational development of the students — who are, after all, the district’s primary concern. With his background as an educator and his understanding of district operations and finances, he will be an advocate for the students’ best interests and work to ensure transparency and accountability among the board, staff and administration.
Another candidate who will bring valuable experience to the board is Brian Richman. A former member of Iowa City’s Housing and Community Development Commission and currently on the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Business, he will bring his expertise in business and public service financing to the board.
A commitment to respectful participation, transparency and accountability on the board is critical, especially as the district considered the General Obligation Bond in 2017.
Please join me in casting two of your four at-large school board votes for Tom Yates and Brian Richman when you vote for ICCSD school board on Sept. 8 (or, vote now at the county administration building).


Mary Murphy writes in support of Save Hoover's candidates Phil Hemingway, Brian Richman, Tom Yates, and Chris Liebig in the September 2 Press-Citizen:

Vote Hemingway, Richman, and Yates for the four-year Iowa City Community School District board seats. Vote Liebig for the two-year seat. We need board members who listen to and let the community speak, will ask the right questions, and are competent to oversee the education of our children. Please vote to build a better board.
Phil Hemingway is honest and smart. He lives in a multi-cultural, bilingual household, appreciates diversity and his family includes his wife and their child, who is pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. Plus, Phil stays informed about current ICCSD issues and asks responsible tough questions of ICCSD’s administration for our children’s betterment.
Brian Richman, a local parent and expert in public financing, comprehends that future facilities planning must be carefully managed or the costs will be out of control. He, among all candidates, best discerns the benefits and perils of ICCSD’s planned long-term debt financing strategy.
Chris Liebig, with a Yale degree, is a Harvard lawyer, who has the capability to understand curriculum, assessments and IEPs. Plus, he strongly supports the arts.
Tom Yates, a retired teacher, brings an important necessary perspective about children and their classrooms to the board.
Now is the time to elect board members who will be passionate about our children’s education, competent to handle all fiduciary responsibilities, and honest. Vote Hemingway, Richman, Yates and Liebig.


In the August 2 Press-Citizen, Lois Cox wrote the following letter in support of Save Hoover candidate Chris Liebig:

I plan to vote for Chris Liebig for the open two-year seat on the Board of the ICCSD. As Chris’s longtime colleague, I’ve had lots of opportunities to observe his approach to problem-solving. He is consistently thoughtful, insightful, and deliberative, as well as careful to pay attention to detail. One of his most outstanding characteristics is his ability to really listen to persons whose opinions differ from his, and to give serious, respectful attention to their concerns. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone better suited than Chris to serve on a board tasked with making important decisions collaboratively.
Chris is perhaps best known to voters as an established blogger on school board issues, including school closings. His comments are always based on sound reasoning and respect for other points of view. The intelligence and creative analysis that he brings to his work, and that make him such a popular professor, can benefit the whole community if he is elected to the School Board. Please join me in voting for him for the open two-year seat.

Monday, August 31, 2015


Proponents of closing Hoover Elementary continue to point to the purported $500,000 the district will save when the school is closed, despite the fact that $500,000 is an average for all the schools of the district and not tied specifically to Hoover.   Some myths die hard; sixteen months ago, Michael Tilley broke down the numbers on his blog and discovered a figure that was significantly less.  As the school board election approaches, now is a good time to revisit Tilley's excellent post on the topic:

Operational Efficiency #6: Won't we save $500K by closing a school?

Over the next couple of days, you very well may hear ICCSD administrators or school board directors assert that it will take $500,000 to operate our new elementary schools beyond the instructional costs. This figure is based on the projected salary of a principal, librarian, guidance counselor, building secretary, media secretary, custodian care, and utilities cost. The estimated new cost to the district is around a half a million dollars. The way that this figure ought to be used is to address the inefficiencies of our new schools when they come online (see my earlier post comparing our smallest schools to our newest, bigger school for some evidence of this fact). That is, since they will likely hamper our ability to be more operationally efficient in the short-term, it is a good idea to accumulate some unspent spending authority sufficient to, at least, cover the new cost to the district of operating a new elementary school.

As I mentioned last post, spending authority is the amount the district is allowed to spend in a given year. If the district does not spend the full amount, they are allowed to carry over the difference between their total spending authority and how much they actually spent as a one-time rainy-day type fund. We will need those extra funds when our new schools come online, and it is a good idea to prepare for it in the coming year(s).

Some, however, go well beyond this use of the $500K figure. They argue that, since each elementary school costs approximately $500K to operate beyond instructional costs, that we'd save $500K just by closing schools and consolidating those students into other school. I have heard this argument used by school board directors and local citizens, but it simply doesn't bear up under scrutiny.

I've heard that argument applied to Hills. It is said that if we just closed Hills and moved those students to another school that we'd save $500K. Unfortunately, Hills has only $250K that it spends on non-instructional expenses. Some of those -- media, custodial care, and utilities costs -- would likely be needed at other schools to accommodates those students were Hills closed. With regard to Hills, the $500K figure is actually more like $200K. 

What about another school? The $500K figure has been tossed out with regard to Hoover's planned closure too. In fact, the operational cost saving was presented as one of the justifications for closing Hoover. But the figure doesn't apply to Hoover either. In order to show this with the 2012-2013 data, I assumed that the 364 Hoover students were distributed to the surrounding schools -- 100 to Longfellow, 100 to Lemme, 100 to Lucas, and 64 to Mann. Doing this would save the district money on by eliminating the need for Hoover's administration and most of its media services (staff) but it probably wouldn't significantly affect utilities or custodial costs. The bigger schools that would be needed to accommodate the Hoover students would probably make utility and custodial costs a wash. Under this scenario, I examined how much the district would probably save. The total amount spent on administration and media services at Hoover in 2012-2013 was approximately $275K. So, one might think that the district could save that much by closing Hoover, but that wouldn't quite be accurate either since Hoover is significantly better in terms of operational efficiency than 3 of the 4 schools that its students would be moved to (Longfellow is the exception). Thus, by my calculations and assuming that every Hoover student was moved to one of these other schools, the district would save approximately $191K. Of course, if a few students opted to switch to another neighboring district (e.g., West Branch), a private school, or home school because of the change, then the amount saved goes down even more. 

So, to make a long story short: use the $500K figure the way it was intended. It doesn't tell us how much we'd save by closing a school. It tells us what we need to save to pay for our (likely to be inefficient in the short-term) new schools.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


KXIC's Jay Capron recently interviewed Brian Richman, one of the candidates Save Hoover supports.  You can listen to the podcast here!


Holly Hines profiled Chris Liebig, one of the candidates Save Hoover supports, in the August 29 Press-Citizen:

Chris Liebig, a lecturer at the University of Iowa College of Law, said he wants to bridge gaps between the district and community if voters elect him to the Iowa City Community School Board.
Liebig is one of three candidates seeking a two-year seat on the board left vacant when Tuyet Baruah resigned. Ten other candidates are running for four full-term seats in the Sept. 8 election.
Liebig said he thinks the district’s decisions should reflect the community’s input and desires. He said announcements about district budget cuts in 2013-14 and changes to schools’ bell schedules in 2014-15 came too late for the community to provide adequate feedback.
Liebig, 50, also said the decision to close Hoover Elementary seemed to contradict the community’s wishes.
“That type of thing does not lend itself to incorporating community input into the process,” he said.
Liebig has blogged about education issues for roughly six years and helped organize a “Save Hoover” movement in the local area.
Candidate Bio:
  • Age: 50.
  • City where you live: Iowa City.
  • Occupation: Teaches legal analysis, writing, and research at the University of Iowa College of Law.
  • Family: Wife, Carolyn; One child at City High, one child at South East Junior High and one child at Hoover Elementary.
  • Attendance area where you live: Hoover, South East, City.
Chris Liebig’s answers to questions about key issues facing the district:
Q: Do you support changing the facilities master plan before the district’s planned bond referendum in 2017?
A: Yes. I want to keep all of our schools, including Hoover Elementary, open. Closing schools when enrollment is expanding makes no sense and is needlessly divisive and expensive. A 300-seat elementary school is worth between 8 and 12 million dollars; the district should not throw away a multimillion-dollar asset for the sake of obtaining a few acres of land, especially when it can’t identify the needs it will use the land for.
If Hoover is kept open, there will be no need to build a $3 million addition to Lemme. I’m not in favor of closing some schools to super-size others.
Q: When are boundary changes necessary, and is preserving neighborhood schools a high priority for you?
A: Boundary changes are necessary when new schools are built and can be a solution when there is persistent overcrowding or under-enrollment.
Yes, preserving neighborhood schools should be a high priority. My sense is that most families (rich, poor and in between) highly value being able to attend a school nearby when there is one.
Q: At a time when educators are concerned about state funding, when is it appropriate for the district to make budget cuts and from which areas should the district cut first?
A: All cuts hurt, but lean times call for temporary sacrifices with the least direct effect on the educational experience. Three initial thoughts: 1. Administration needs to be lean and focused on essential activities. 2. The state is on the verge of requiring comprehensive Iowa-Core-compliant standardized tests; can we, then, cut some of the many standardized tests we’ve been using? 3. The state is giving us $4 million next year for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Program; can we reduce some spending from the general fund on other professional development activities?
I don’t believe that we should be closing elementary schools to shave a fraction of a percentage point off our annual expenses, especially when it means losing millions of dollars worth of capacity. When the pendulum swings back and funding returns (I believe it will), we can restore the things we temporarily sacrificed, but schools we’ve closed will be gone forever.
Q: How would you promote equity in the district?
A: Some schools have more kids who are facing greater challenges than others. Those schools should get more resources — for example, smaller class sizes.
I support the district’s efforts to attract and retain qualified minority teachers and staff and to address discriminatory treatment of students in, for example, its discipline and special education practices.
I support the renovation of our older facilities, and the construction of new capacity to prevent over-crowding, to ensure that students are getting a high-quality education no matter what building they’re in.