One of the three reasons given by School Board President Chris Lynch, at an informational meeting about Hoover Elementary on June 16, 2015, was that Hoover needs be closed because there are seven schools too close in proximity to each other on the east side of Iowa City. The attendance boundary for Hoover Elementary is bordered by five other elementary school boundaries: Shimek, Lemme, Lucas, Longfellow, and Mann. In addition, the boundary for Twain is less than half a mile from the southern edge of the Hoover boundary. Lynch’s argument was that this is too many elementary schools in one area, and that since all parts of the Hoover attendance area are “walkable” (within the two mile radius defined as walkablility) to another school, it makes sense to close Hoover.
Now, seriously, is this really a justification for closing a vibrant and successful elementary school in the heart of Iowa City?
Let’s take a closer look at whether this “reason” holds up to scrutiny.
1) The reason there are many schools in east Iowa City is because it is a densely populated area. Does it not make sense to have schools where the people live? This is the whole idea of neighborhood schools, and the neighborhood schools of the Iowa City Community School District are one of the primary reasons why we have a great educational system here. Closing schools in areas of dense population neither is a good decision, nor does it account for fluctuations in future needs, nor is it responsive to what the community wants.
2) The school board states that the elementary school population is declining in the Hoover attendance area, yet this prediction is merely conjecture. The school board has presented no actual data to support this claim. And, the kindergarten population at Hoover this year is at a high for recent years, in contradiction to this unsubstantiated claim of declining enrollment.
3) Even if the population of elementary school children in the Hoover district were experiencing a minor downward fluctuation, the fluctuations in student population in older neighborhoods is a common phenomenon. And, unless the neighborhood is in decline (which the Hoover neighborhood is not), the student population always goes back up. Thus, the decision to close Hoover Elementary is a short-sighted decision that does not account for future fluctuations in the populations of elementary school children. Recently, in Des Moines, it was announced that Moore Elementary School was reopened due to need, after having been closed 8 years ago in 2007 due to declining enrollment. Thus, the decision to close Hoover Elementary is almost certainly short-sighted on a ten-year time frame, eliminating capacity that will be needed in the future. And the schools nearby Hoover at present do not have the extra capacity to absorb the Hoover students.
4) Are kindergarten students really expected to walk two miles to school? Of course, the district needs to have some measure for walkability, but at the elementary school level, the standard of two miles is particularly unreasonable. So, tearing down a school in the heart of densely populated Iowa City will simply add to the traffic load during the morning and afternoon school rushes. Having schools where the kids are just makes sense.
5) Successful schools are not about walls, or multi-purpose rooms, or new facilities. Successful schools are about community. The building of that community spirit at a school takes years, for the teachers and staff to work in harmony, and for the students to feel strongly that they are a valuable part of that elementary school community. Tearing down schools in favor of new, shiny buildings on the outskirts of town runs against the wishes of the community, of the taxpayers that fund the schools. That the school administration and school board in recent years have not been responsive to the community’s overwhelming two-to-one desire not to close neighborhood schools is a shame, and erodes community trust that the administration and board are acting in the best interest of the students, and not just looking at dollars and cents. Even from the dollars and cents perspective, the closure of Hoover has never been shown to yield savings sufficient to justify closing a school, as discussed here
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The argument that Hoover needs to be closed because there are too many schools in east Iowa City is flimsy at best. The prediction of steadily declining enrollment at Hoover is mere speculation, with no factual data to support this claim, and fluctuations of student populations in older neighborhoods is common, where what goes down eventually comes back up. At the Facilities Master Planning process in 2013, the community made their viewpoint loud and clear, by a two-to-one margin, not to close neighborhood schools. The administration’s and school board’s lack of regard in the past few years for community opinion undermines trust in the leadership of our schools.
Please join me on September 8th in changing that trend by voting for
These candidates have demonstrated the ability to think critically about school district issues and will provide critical oversight of the administration and a responsiveness to the community, both characteristics of the school board that have been sorely lacking in the past few years. These four candidates have a breadth of experience and deep knowledge about school district issues, and together will trasform our school board to provide transparent, responsible, and accountable guidance to the district.