Sunday, August 16, 2015

COMPILATION: THE SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES RESPOND TO THE HOOVER QUESTION


In preparation for the September 8 ICCSD school board election, the Save Hoover Committee submitted the following question to candidates running for both the two- and four-year open seats:

If you are elected, will you support amending the long-term facilities plan to keep Hoover Elementary School open?

Following are the responses we received from all the school board candidates.  They are grouped by Four-Year Seat and Two-Year Seat, and in the order they arrived.  This post is a compilation of the original response posts—here, here, and here.


Candidates for the Four-Year Seats:

TOM YATES: I am leaning toward keeping Hoover open. Here are my reasons:

--Informally, my own poll of this question to anyone I talk to (and I always ask) is about 3-1 in favor of keeping it open. I am in favor of keeping neighborhood schools open, in general.

--I am not convinced that the future of a chunk of the Facilities Master Plan is contingent on Hoover's closing. I see what the intended links are for the expansion of current schools to take care of Hoover's student population, but I do not think they all add up.

--The lack of a plan for the site, demolished or not, is a bad sign. Portions of the last two board meetings have led to no clear purpose/plan. Discussion of City High needs, and the list presented at the last meeting, do not indicate a need for more acreage. I taught in that building for 31 years, and can think of several ways to get better use of its space, or added space, than the last two expansion projects. The lack of imagination concerning City baffles me. 

SHAWN EYESTONE: My straight answer to your question is no.  At this time I don’t have enough evidence before me to want to alter the Facilities Master plan to keep Hoover open.  With some very good friends as parents at Hoover, I know this runs the risk of creating some hostility.  I hope that can be avoided by at least having some understanding of my thinking.  However, I am very open to hearing a compelling argument as to why I should change my opinion.  I truly understand the meaning that each of our schools and our school families have for us.  I know that the buildings themselves can hold a lot of memories and a sense of nostalgia.  But there is more to the school than just the building itself.  It is the relationships our children build with each other.  It is the rapport that parents have with their children’s teachers and school administrators.  It is that sense of family that creates the strong bonds that make our district as great as it is.  That is what I would be against getting rid of.  I wouldn’t be in favor of splitting up the entire school and scattering them to the wind.  I would like to see those families kept together as much as possible and the teachers and administrators have the chance to go with them.  The building itself is a different matter.  As a Board member, I would have the responsibility to best help the entire district from a top level as well as each student on an individual basis.  As an elementary school parent I have to remind myself that every student means elementary, Junior High and High School.  The Master plan lists several much needed additions to City High.  These additions are to help make all of the high school students in the community have the same access to high quality programs.  In order to complete these additions to the building, some of the current City High property and components will be displaced.  The nearest and admittedly easiest place to gain back that lost ground is the current Hoover site.  I believe Hoover is also being tasked as a swing school to help with construction at many other facilities around the district.  This touches a lot of students’ lives around the district in a positive way.  I know it touches the lives of the students at Hoover most deeply and not completely in a positive way.  I can tell you that as a parent at one of the newer, larger schools in the district, I really do love it.  I’m constantly amazed at what the staff is able to do utilizing the space to its fullest and the professional development work they accomplish as a team.  My kids, the teachers and parents are quite proud of their school and I truly feel that Hoover parents, teachers and students will be just as proud of their new school.  As I said earlier, I am willing to listen to arguments because I am not as completely educated on the topic as I should be.  I can only speak from what I know.  If the plan is to scatter all of the current families at Hoover to the wind I would like to hear more about that.  I would also love to hear other proposals that show how these other great things in our district can be accomplished if Hoover does stay open.  The couple of times I have had the opportunity to visit Hoover, I enjoyed the building very much.  The same thing is true for all of the schools in our district.  No matter how big, how small, round, square, tall or short, the students are all happy to be there.  The staff loves their kids and we are providing a top notch education to all of them.  My hope is that every decision the Board makes stays true to that statement and improves on an already impressive resume.

PHIL HEMINGWAY: I unequivocally say YES to amending the long-term facilities master plan to keep Hoover open. Recent statements made by administration saying it would cost anywhere from $350,000-400,000 to inform the public on what the new facilities on the Hoover site would be used for is, in my opinion, utter hogwash. And board members who swallowed this tripe might be interested in purchasing the Sutliff Bridge. I am opposed to closing Hoover, Hills, Lincoln, Longfellow, Mann or any other elementary school in existing and vibrant neighborhoods and communities. With what has been provided to the community now, no strong case has been made for the need to close Hoover other than parking, tennis courts, and some future need not yet specified. Money drives all our decisions going forward - which is what I said at many forums during the last elections and it still holds true today. We cannot afford to close elementary schools at a time when we need added elementary school capacity. Does anyone remember that before the (BLDD) consultants came to town, City High was under capacity and needed more students but it took BLDD no time at all to say essentially all our schools are over capacity. 

We need Board members to be honest with the public and to live up to their promises of the RPS vote and to make overdue renovations/additions to existing schools and where needed, build new ones. The ICCSD has to strengthen and unify our community not divide it and weaken it.

JASON T. LEWIS: The Facilities Master Plan is the most important initiative we have in the district. It's set to do so much good for so many and has already done a lot of good. My support for it is unwavering. 

I'm open to hearing options regarding Hoover. I'm open to any discussion, regardless of the issue. The job of the school board is, in part, to listen and be a conduit for the concerns and values of the community. I'm committed to being that conduit. As long as the Facilities Master Plan continues apace, doing all the good it currently intends to do, I welcome any discussion. 

I support neighborhood schools. They sustain our neighborhoods and strengthen our community.

LUCAS VAN ORDEN: Given the heightened awareness and concern over the ongoing situation with Hoover, I would ask that a reader collectively take ALL of my thoughts that follow before drawing any conclusion.   It is a shame when people will cherry pick a single remark out of context, and run.  There are multiple factors that factored into the decision to close Hoover, and it does not boil down to a simple 10 word answer or tweet.   The most common frustration I have heard raised by families over the Hoover closing relates to communication, and community education related to the decision.  That is unfortunate, and serves as an example from which to take a lesson moving forward.  My opinion of the circumstance related to Hoover is based on my understanding today.    With that being said... 

1.     I spoke briefly at the board meeting on Tuesday July 28th, and expressed my opinion that the ICCSD School Board should move forward with the Facility Master Plan as previously approved.  
2.     It is a reality that that plan calls for the Hoover site to become part of the City High Campus over time.  Knowing specifically how the site is to be used in the future is not a deal-breaker for me in the decision today.
3.     The City High campus is landlocked, whose demand for expansion in the coming years is undeniable, and unavoidable.  The district's options for City High are few, and the Hoover property makes logical sense as it is currently owned by ICCSD.
4.     To phrase it bluntly... (and I apologize in advance)  The fate of Hoover was determined by previous boards, and I am not prepared to advocate a plan that reverses the approval of the Facility Master Plan.  Doing so would jeopardize significant projects depending on that plan advancing as previously approved.  Seeing those projects successfully financed through general obligation bonds, and advancing is of the highest importance to thousands of students across the entire district.
5.     The.... WHOLE Iowa City Community School District.
6.     I additionally expressed my belief that accelerating the site use study only serves to consume the allotted ~480,000 cost, crafting a plan that will likely change in it's demand and final form, as the student load and use of City High evolves.   From a planning standpoint,  I feel that the district is best served by performing that study when the consultants advise it will provide substantive information.  Doing so avoids the possibility of having to incur the cost a second time.
7.     A concern expressed by some current board members, and members of the public is that the administration and board are somehow shirking their responsibility by failing to say what the intended use is going to be.  If I were on the current board, my position to the public would be this:  I don't know specifically what the use will be, and today... as part of moving the Facilities Master plan forward, I honestly don't need to know specifically.  I only need to know that the plan to transition the students at Hoover is being handled in the best possible manner possible, and that in time, the City High campus will absolutely need the additional space at some point in the future.  I believe both to be true.   
8.     There is no reason to believe we will see a significant change in student population and attendance in the Hoover neighborhood.   (For example; if an additional ~150 kindergartners moved into the Hoover neighborhood).  Only such a dramatic change in demographic would demand a reevaluation of the timing, but NOT the closure.   As that is not likely to occur, the previously approved Facility Master Plan should move forward without substantive modification or delay.
9.     A concern of mine I wish to share...  I am perplexed, and troubled by individuals who run for any office, making promises they simply cannot uphold, simply in an effort to win an election.  The question of Hoover's closing was researched, sought community input, debated publicity by previous boards, and is now a settled matter.    A candidate who pledges to reopen the question of Hoover's closing, without bringing to the table substantive information showing how the decision making process was materially flawed, is in essence approaching the election with a far too narrow an approach to the ICCSD comprehensive needs.  One cannot run simply on a platform pledging to overturn previous board decisions simply because they were contrary to their personal belief, or in an attempt to garner favor from a voting block.  A candidate can only speak for themselves, and clearly not guarantee the action of a yet to be determined group of seven people.
10. The ICCSD staff and families they serve cannot develop substantive plans moving forward, if at every turn the school board pivots on previous policy decisions.  
11. That all taken into account...  The answer to your question as asked is no.  Not based on the information at hand.  I believe the study was well researched, and the previous board decision was proper.
12. However...  Please continue reading below.

I have watched in pain as the families in the Hoover neighborhood struggle as this process played out.  I attended Central Junior High 1976 to 1979.  That property (which was landlocked in downtown Iowa City) was rich in history and beauty.  I anguished in frustration and sorrow as the site was deemed unsuitable for improvement and long-tern use, and became a parking lot for Mercy Hospital.  It personally vexed me, yet I understood why the smart move (for the entire district) was for ICCSD to proceed as they did.   To this day I hearken back to times of my youth as I drive by what used to be Seaton's grocery at Court & Muscatine Ave, or Watts Grocery 3 blocks away.  I went to school with the Seatons, and miss their neighborly quality and influence in countless ways.  Over  the past 50 years, I have watched countless local merchants succumb to the inevitability of change.   We watch as consumers flock to bigger retailers, in search of enhanced benefits, flexibility, and lower cost.  We flock into Walmart or HyVee 24 hours a day, so easily having forgotten that by doing so, we abandoned the Seatons and Watts in the process.   Don't ask me if it's progress...  I honestly am not sure.   But then again... I stopped at HyVee North Dodge for Folgers coffee and grapes on my way home from seeing Ricky Lee Jones at the Englert Theater.    I could have stopped at John's Grocery (as they were open) but somehow drove on past their neighborhood store, as I was programmed by force of habit to practice what I frequently deride.  

I miss the Iowa City of my youth in many ways, and the schools I attended growing up.  The schools of our youth help craft the foundation of who we become.   As a parent, I see the great potential of where the Iowa City School District has been going over the years as my children work their way through the process.   I attended Horace Mann for kindergarten, and then Shimek when it opened the following year.   Mann, as an older building in the district has been slated for desperately needed updates as part of the Facilities Master Plan.  I embrace that plan, and would far and away rather see Mann improved, then go the way of Henry Sabin, or Central Junior High.  We are consumers of public education, in a manner very similar to our economic consumerism.  We flock to the internet and buy from Amazon, while expressing lament over the loss of another local privately owner merchant.  We embrace the seemingly endless opportunities that internet based education can provide, while somehow forgetting to sit at the kitchen table and review homework side by side with our children.  I honestly think that somewhere... lost among the rancor and emotion of change is a workable balance.  I believe our administration has been dedicated to finding equitable solutions to the very complex challenge of our district's ever changing growth.  I also believe that we are blessed with dedicated and hard working individuals, who deserve to be engaged in a productive and open discussion.  I was asked yesterday by a polite young lady from the Gazette in an interview what quality I bring to the ISSCD race as a 51yr old who has lived in the district my whole life.   I guess my last two paragraphs lay that out fairly well.  Every candidate offers a perspective that would prove beneficial to the 5 open seats on the board.  One of my many contributions to this debate might be found in the phrase: "To know where you are... you have to know where you have been". 

LATASHA DELOACH: As a new parent, I know the hopes and dreams that you develop in your heart from the moment you find out that you will have a child coming into your life. 

Along with the hope and the joy of this new addition, you also have worry and fear about all the things in the world that may impede your child's success. You start thinking immediately about who will assist in the education of your child--their first daycare, to preschool, as well as elementary and high school, maybe even the college they will attend. Throughout all these thoughts and concerns, you are focused on your end goal: getting my precious babies through school to adulthood. 

In an effort to think long term about all of our current Hoover students, and the need for them to attend a comprehensive high school that can compete with any school statewide or nationwide, we must ensure that we have space to expand and improve our oldest high school locally.

The FMP is necessary to provide equity to our community. It really bothers me that Hoover and other schools are not updated to meet the needs of every student in the community. We have the best schools in this state and we must maintain and continue to provide this high level of excellence. 

I am so impressed with the folks who have surrounded the children of Hoover to support them. As a social worker, when looking at supports for children to ensure they are resilient, the number one factor is a supportive and caring adult. These children are surrounded by all of you. 

I believe it is essential that the district does everything in its power to assist with the transition of students into surrounding schools as well as to inform the families about the transfers of staff to other buildings in our district. You all deserve a increased level of sensitivity because it is a loss to your families. 

My hope is that as our children transition into other neighborhood schools, we can build a larger, extended Hoover family. There is no reason our schools have to constantly be in competition with one another. This is a great opportunity to strengthen all schools and come together as a community. 

BRIANNA WILLS: My husband and I have been actively involved in the community as PTA President, District Wide Parents’ Organization Representative, Box Top Coordinator, Presenters at Family Enrichments Night, Talent Show, T-Shirt coordinator, etc. and we care deeply for the children and families at Hoover.  As a Hoover parent for the last four years, and with four kids at Hoover this year, I have been immersed in the Hoover closure question from the very beginning.  I have questioned, discussed and agonized over this decision.   In fact, two of my children will be attending during the closure so the closure directly impacts my family.  Regardless, I still believe the closure is the right thing to do.  I fully support the Master Facility Plan as it currently stands and would not support over-turning the Hoover closure.

TODD FANNING: While I understand the sentiments toward the current Hoover facility, I believe it is imperative to build the new Hoover School.  This school will be located not too far from the current Hoover, and will allow the District to proceed with renovations at 3 neighborhood schools in the area that desperately need attention.  This also allows improvements to be made at City High so that the campus facilities at all three comprehensive high schools can be better aligned.  

BRIAN RICHMAN: I’ve said on my website and to many people in person in recent weeks that we’re standing at a crossroads where the future of our schools depends more than ever on making smart decisions.  With a rapidly growing population, constrained finances, and a vital $200+ million bond issue that will take a generation to pay off, the impact of the choices we make today on current and future children will be magnified greatly in the decades ahead.

So what are the smart choices for the east side of Iowa City?  In my opinion, they are these:

City High needs to have the facilities it requires to provide its students with a top-notch educational experience and to remain competitive with West and Liberty in all important respects.

The development of the proposed east side elementary needs to move forward.  It’s a project with long-range importance to both the District and to Iowa City. 

To date, the District has not provided relevant, verifiable data to demonstrate that either of those goals is inconsistent with keeping Hoover open.  As a result, I am currently in favor of keeping the school open.

Though I’m a Hoover parent, this isn’t about emotion for me.  Sure, my wife and I won’t be able to walk our kids to school if Hoover closes.  But that’s not the end of the world, and it certainly wouldn’t be a reasonable basis for a decision of this import.  In the end, for all of the Hoover families, our kids will go to other successful schools with other great teachers.

For me the issue is that there simply hasn’t been any information offered up that confirms that shuttering Hoover is a necessary or even a good decision.  In fact, at every opportunity, the administration has declined to provide the data that might conceivably sway those of us who currently support Hoover in a different direction.  Instead, we have received only misleading data and assertions that amount to “Trust us; we’re doing the right thing.”

That trust has to be earned.

And it could be.  I and the vast majority of people who support reconsidering the Hoover plan are not Luddites.  We’re not opposed to change—especially change for the good of kids and the success of the District. 

What I’m opposed to is bad decision making. 

What I’m opposed to is decision-driven data rather than data-driven decisions. 

What I’m opposed to is closing a $250,000 budget gap (roughly 0.16% of the District’s operating budget) by saddling the taxpayers of Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty with $15-20 million in additional debt to rebuild capacity elsewhere.  Many people in the U.S. took that approach before the great recession—taking out mortgage and home equity loans to pay for living costs and assuming things would all work out in the end.  Things didn’t work out well for most of those people, and I don’t believe they will work out well for the District or for the taxpayers.

So with that said, what would it take to sway me?  What would it take for me, as a citizen and a school board member, to conclude that Hoover should be closed?  Here’s the answer:

Detailed, accurate operating budgets from which we could reasonably conclude that the District cannot afford to run both Hoover and the new east side elementary while also making meaningful progress toward important educational goals.  To date, the administration has provided only District-wide averages which are in no way useful in analyzing this issue. 

A site analysis—not a $400,000 set of plans—from an architect approved by the board that shows that City High cannot have its new classroom space, cafeteria, gymnasium, or other key facilities without taking the entire Hoover site and razing the building.

I’m a public finance banker by trade.  I spent more than a dozen years putting together billions of dollars of education financing for exactly these types of projects.  I’m the one board candidate who actually has the professional background to do the type of rigorous analysis that would allow me and other members of the community to reach the conclusions that the existing board and administration want us to reach with regard to Hoover.  But we need the data.

[I obviously don’t have the politician’s instinct for brevity, so if you’ve read this far, thank you.  Feel free to go get a glass of water and come back.]

Since announcing my candidacy, I’ve spoken with dozens of people about the Hoover issue.  My experience has been that 98% of the people—on both sides—are reasonable and open-minded, and 100% want to do what they believe is right for the children of our community. 

So in my estimation, the issue can be resolved amicably, expeditiously, and in a manner that respects the community and people on both sides of the issue.  To do so requires a board and an administration that are committed to that respect for the community.  I hope to be part of a board that brings it to fruition.

Finally, I’d like to add two postscripts.  First, the process that resulted in the planned closing of Hoover—coupled with the cancelled additions at Mann and Longfellow and the “thought exercises” about closing other schools that the administration engages in periodically—have sent the message to in-town Iowa City residents, in particular, that their schools are a part of the past rather than an important part of the future.  I do not believe that is a good facilities strategy or the right message for the District.

To be sure, if we were starting from scratch, we likely would build all of our elementary schools at the 500-600 student size.  They produce more busing and therefore higher transportation costs, but on balance, they’re somewhat more efficient to operate. 

But we’re not starting from scratch, and the cost to do so—to tear out existing schools and rebuild larger ones at a zero gain in net capacity—would saddle taxpayers throughout the District with tens of millions of dollars in additional debt payments.  That’s money that could be much better spent on new capacity in areas where we’re seeing strong population growth.

Large schools and smaller schools both have their benefits and drawbacks.  But at the end of the day, the important thing is to recognize that we are no longer a one-size-fits-all community.

Second, while I’ve written and spoken about the Hoover issue on previous occasions, this is not the reason I’m running for a seat on the school board.  I’m running because I have two young children and I want to ensure that they and all of the kids in our community will benefit from the exceptional educational experience that has, for decades, been a hallmark of the Iowa City area schools.  I’m running because I think the District can improve its focus on long-term goals rather than simply combating crises.  And I’m running because I believe I have the financial and strategic skill set to help the board make smart decisions at a critical moment in history for our schools and our kids.

LORI ROETLIN: My position on the closing of Hoover is that it was an unfortunate decision that was made by the current board, and I do not agree with their decision.  However, it is my understanding that now the closing of Hoover is embedded in the FMP regarding east side elementary school renovations, the new east side elementary school, and City High.  It is my understanding that if the decision to close Hoover is reversed, then all of the above projects are eliminated.  If that is accurate, I do not think I could support amending the plan to keep Hoover open as eliminating the above projects would affect far more students than the closing of Hoover.  This situation is an unfortunate example of the lack of transparency in the current board that I want to see changed in the new board.   

Candidates for the Two-Year Seat:

PAUL ROESLER: To answer the question you have asked I would have to say no, not at this time. I am very much in favor of the current Facility Master Plan.  The current plan touches all schools across the district, adding classrooms, multi purpose rooms and air conditioning amongst other things which is greatly needed.  The FMP does not allow for renovations at Hoover without robbing another school of its planned renovations. 

Absent significant changes in school funding, the school funding formula at the state level, or a major influx of students into the immediate Hoover geography, it is neither fiscally responsible nor possible for old Hoover to be maintained and operated.  If the things I mentioned were to happen I would definitely take a second look at Hoover and how it fits into the FMP. 

CHRIS LIEBIG: I support keeping all of our schools open, for these reasons:

1.  The community has made it clear, at every opportunity, that it does not support school closures.

2.  Closing schools when enrollment is expanding doesn't make sense and is needlessly divisive and expensive.  There's no justification for destroying millions of dollars worth of elementary capacity in a district that is growing.

3.  We need a super-majority of voters to approve a bond to complete the renovation and new construction in the long-term facilities plan.  Including school closures in the proposal puts the entire plan at risk.

4.  We are not so desperate that we need to start closing elementary schools to shave a fraction of a percentage point off our annual operating expenses, especially when it means losing millions of dollars worth of capacity.  Lean times call for temporary sacrifices, not irreversible changes.

5.  The acreage that will be displaced by the City High addition is a very small fraction of the Hoover property.  The district has never explained how the addition requires the closure of Hoover, even if it might necessitate using some small part of Hoover’s 5.7 acres.  

6.  Neither expanded parking nor athletic fields is a sufficient reason to close an elementary school.

7.  Not every university town has the kind of thriving central neighborhoods that Iowa City has.  We need to support the schools that help those neighborhoods thrive.  The entire area benefits from a livable, family-friendly central core.

I was one of the main organizers of the Save Hoover group in 2013 and will continue to advocate for keeping all of our schools open.  Thank you for your question and for your consideration of my candidacy.

MEGAN SCHWALM: I think that changing the FMP, as a newly elected board member, would be divisive. If we reverse the decision right now, it will have a ripple effect throughout the district and probably jeopardize the bond passage.  I am running for the school board to move the district forward. It is time that we focus on how we will transition the kids who currently attend Hoover. 

Part of why I am running is my disappointment that communication and transparency have not been hallmarks of the district recently -- the experiences that Hoover parents have had over the past several years is one case in point.  One of the major ways I would strive to hold the administration accountable is around the way they work with the Hoover students, parents, and staff during this transition.

At this point, it is critical that the school district be communicative, transparent, and that they support the students, their families, and the staff at Hoover to ensure the transition is as smooth as it possibly can be. 



1 comment:

  1. Good thing that you have able to respond to this kind of concern. It gives good clarifications to the community and to school boards by giving them an efficient answer regarding on their concerns about the Hoover elementary school issue.

    ReplyDelete

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