Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Board Candidates Respond to the Question of Hoover: Part 2

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 additional responses we’ve received since our last post. We will continue to update the blog as more come in.

Candidate for the Two-Year Seat:

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. 

Candidates for the Four-Year Seats:

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". 

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Van Orden: For "substantive information showing how the decision making process was materially flawed," you should really educate yourself. Read Chris Liebig's blog.


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