In preparation for the July 19 ICCSD school board election, the Save Hoover Committee submitted the following question to candidates:
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 the three school board candidates.
J.P. Claussen: My short answer is yes, I do support amending the long term facilities plan to keep Hoover Elementary School open. I also feel this is a larger issue than just keeping one neighborhood school open, or keeping neighborhood schools open in general.
I feel this way for multiple reasons.
Firstly, I do believe in neighborhood elementary schools. Obviously this does have to be balanced with cost and growth, but there is a deep part of me that is resistant to suburban sprawl and the direction of “newer and fewer” elementary schools. My thoughts on this have shifted over the years. As I talk to people whose children attend older smaller schools, there is a fear that the district will begin shutting down, or poorly maintaining until they shut down, these community hubs. Though there may be some cost savings, ultimately many in our community favor keeping neighborhood schools open, and they have spoken at the polls. At the end of the day, these are our tax dollars, and the priorities of the ICCSD should align with the priorities of the community. I think that those in favor of passing the GO Bond, which I am, would be wise to listen to more voices. We will need 60% of the vote to pass a bond, and community trust and engagement is critical. Engagement doesn't mean just getting people to change their minds to agree with you, it involves active listening and thoughtful consideration.
Secondly, I do not believe that equity means “the same,” so I am resistant to the drive in our district that each of our secondary schools must have the exact same programming, the exact same athletic facilities, the exact same everything. So, if the Hoover question is mostly about expanding City High, then I think we can be more creative in thinking about how students can move to programming, instead of having the same programming in all the schools. One example of this would be Vocational Education, which is something that is seriously lacking in our district. We could utilize existing capacity in the district to develop state of the art Vocational Programming that students who wanted to could travel to for part of their day. In addition, I would like to see programming that taps into resources in our community. Students could participate in building trades programs, nursing classes, art partnerships, community arts organizations, service learning projects, civic engagement with local governments, outdoor education, a more robust Farm to School program, etc. This aligns with my vision of increased Arts, Vocational and Civic programming in our schools, and as I talk with more and more community members I would add outdoor education to that list. Not all programming needs to be provided in house, and research has shown that in many cases students learn more and more deeply in “real world” situations.
Also in the last election, Brian Richman, an expert in public finance, laid out a very detailed explanation as to why closing Hoover did not make financial sense. His argument, I felt, was dispassionate and thorough. I have rarely seen clearer cost/benefit analyses from the district on how our projects will cost out. This is the type of fair and open analysis we need to be able to have honest discussions about major facilities spending.
Finally, this isn't just about Hoover. This is about community values and our approach to decision making. I believe that much of the dissension our community stems from feelings of distrust, and a lack of listening to input and feedback by decision makers. If we truly want to come together and move forward as a united district, we can't insist on only getting our way. I believe the last School Board election sent a very strong message that our community wants to move in a different direction and is looking for more visionary leadership to get us there.
Paul Roesler: In 2013 the School Board voted to pass the 10 Year Facility Master Plan, a plan derived from hundreds of hours of expert involvement and community input. It was the first time that I can recall the district laying out a roadmap to follow in order to improve its infrastructure. Prior to the FMP, the district was primarily building new schools reactively. We were neglecting existing schools’ need for basic improvements such as ADA compliance, classrooms additions, and air conditioning.
The FMP requires schools across the district to make sacrifices and compromises for the betterment of the district as a whole. Hoover is no exception as it is the only school that will close. Why is Hoover singled out? Not for one reason but, rather, the aggregate of several compelling reasons. First, Hoover is the only elementary school within one mile of three other elementary schools (and 1.5 miles of a fourth elementary school). Longfellow, Lucas and Mann (with the passage of the GO Bond) will all have been completely renovated and updated by the time the Hoover students go there. Lemme will have a sizeable new addition completed not long after. These renovations and additions are much needed and a long time coming. Both Twain and Penn have completed renovations and you can see how the community has been reinvigorated as if they had a new school.
Second, Hoover shares a campus with City High, which has a significantly smaller footprint than West and Liberty high schools. As a board member, I will make sure that the land Hoover gives to City High will be used thoughtfully and will benefit Hoover students as they age into high school. Finally, while Hoover students and teachers are vibrant, the building is not. Projections to keep Hoover open fail to consider the costs of the improvements Hoover needs including a multi-purpose room. Additionally, more than one in four of the Hoover community do not reside anywhere near the building.
I am moved by the Hoover community’s loyalty to its school. I hope the same loyalty is shown to the district, including current Hoover students, who will benefit from the progression of the FMP. In the end, Hoover Students will have the same opportunities to attend a neighborhood school; it will only require going to a different building. And City High will be stronger as a result.
I commend the Hoover community for advocating for the future of Hoover students and teachers. As a school board member, I will reinforce this advocacy by holding the administration to its promise to offer Hoover teachers employment at the new Hoover and assist them in finding teaching positions elsewhere if so desired. I will also continue to advocate for Hoover students to make sure families know where their students will go to school and how that transition will be made when Hoover is retired.
Finally, the FMP is not intended to be written in stone. As a community member I have stayed abreast of all the changes (demographic, funding, etc.) that impact our district. As a board member, I will be committed to making sure the FMP reflects significant changes where necessary. For now, unless there are major changes in the school funding formula at the state level, or a large influx of students into the immediate Hoover geography, it is neither fiscally responsible nor possible for old Hoover to be maintained and operated.
Janice Weiner: My understanding is that the current plan that includes the existing Hoover elementary is a long range, complex plan on which the Board decided long before I aspired to join. I also understand this has been extremely difficult for the Hoover community.
Plans are living documents. I can imagine circumstances under which changing demographics and conditions could cause aspects of that plan - as with other plans - to be revisited in the years to come. In the meantime, it is essential to continue to attend to and, wherever possible, address the concerns of those affected.