Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Board Candidates Respond to the Question of Hoover: Part 3

[This is the final set of candidate responses to the Hoover issue.  The first two sets can be found here and here.  All candidates, with the exception of Lori Roetlin, responded to our request.]

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?

The following answers come from candidates running for the four-year open seats. 

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:

1.     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.

2.     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:

1.     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. 

2.     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.   

No comments:

Post a Comment

The simplest way to comment is to choose "Name/URL" in the drop-down box, then just type in your name. You can leave the URL field blank. Comments are moderated to prevent spam, so your comment may not appear immediately.