Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Background for the 2017 ICCSD G.O. Bond

This is the first in a several-part series on the reasons for and against the ICCSD G.O. Bond.

On September 12, the Iowa City Community School District residents will be voting on a bond referendum. The language on the ballot will be as follows:

Shall the Board of Directors of the Iowa City Community School District in the County of Johnson, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $191,525,000 to provide funds to address health, safety, and accessibility issues in all school buildings, including air conditioning all school buildings, reducing the use of temporary classroom structures in the District, addressing classroom, lunchroom, and gymnasium overcrowding, and dedicating rooms to art, music, prekindergarten, and science by constructing, furnishing and equipping a new building, constructing additions to and/or remodeling, repairing, and improving the school buildings remaining in the District’s Facilities Master Plan, as follows: Mann and Lincoln renovations, Liberty High athletic facilities construction and site improvements, new elementary school construction in North Liberty and site improvements, West High renovation, South East and North Central Junior High additions, Shimek renovation, City High addition and upgrades, Wood addition, Wickham upgrades, Garner and Northwest additions, Liberty High addition, Horn renovation, Kirkwood addition, Borlaug, Alexander, and Lemme additions, and Tate High addition and upgrades?
For the bond to pass, it requires 60% of the vote. Here is a bit of background on the matter.

On February 2, 2013, voters approved a new revenue purpose statement (RPS), with 56% voting in favor and 44% voting against. This vote allowed the district to borrow up to $100 million against future sales tax revenue, and it was one of the primary funding mechanisms for the initial Facilities Master Plan (FMP).
On December 10, 2013, the ICCSD Board of Education approved the first iteration of the FMP--the overall structure was decided several months earlier on July 23, 2013 (see here). The process for determining the projects within that iteration of the FMP was lengthy, lasting around one year, and it involved community-wide discussions and ultimately a recommendation from a steering committee composed of numerous district stakeholders. After that decision, the primary opposition to the FMP came as a result of the board’s decision to close Hoover Elementary as part of FMP (my summary of the matter is here), and along with this criticism, some thought that the RPS vote was misleading, since the decision to close an elementary school (and consider closing a couple of others) was only made after the community vote for the RPS. Still, it must be acknowledged by critics and supporters alike that the board has addressed many of the transitional concerns that were raised by these critics (e.g., guaranteeing transfers for Hoover’s teachers and not using Hoover as a transitional schoolhouse), even as Hoover’s closure remains as part of the FMP.

On April 14, 2015, the board approved an update to the FMP (see V1 here). The update was made in response to changes in projected school enrollments, and it involved shifting several additions from buildings (e.g., Lincoln, Longfellow, and Mann) where enrollment projections declined to buildings where enrollment projections increased (e.g., Garner, and Weber). There were some switches that did not seem to align well with changes in projected enrollment (e.g., building an addition at Borlaug and Lemme), and it was unclear to me what the rationale for those changes was. If I had to speculate, I would suggest that it would be to increase flexibility in redistricting as the need arises in coming years. In addition to the Hoover-related objection, the other primary complaint against the FMP was that it signaled a shift from valuing the inner-core of the community to valuing building and growth on the periphery of town. For those engaged with the process and the reasons behind the decision, it is clear that this criticism did not take seriously how projected enrollments had shifted, nor did seem to recognize that the FMP was still slated to spend tens of millions of dollars renovating and upgrading the elementary schools closest to downtown Iowa City.  

On January 24, 2017, the board approved its latest update to its FMP (see here with a summary of the changes here). The board did not make as extensive of changes during this FMP update as it had two years prior. One can speculate about the reasons for that, including wanting less change given an upcoming bond vote, or the history of unwarranted and uninformed criticisms of the previous update (the periphery of town criticism above), but whatever the reason, the update was not as responsive to changes in the projected enrollment as the prior update was. Still, it did make some adjustments to address some of the changes in projected enrollment (e.g., accelerating  North Central Junior High’s addition and renovations), and it shifted the location of the new elementary school in North Liberty. There was also a slight shift in emphasis from adding general education classrooms to adding dedicated art and music rooms. This slight shift results in added capacity to the buildings involved, since the rooms used for art and music can then be used for general education rooms. In addition to the Hoover-related objection, the primary criticism of this particular update was that critics were concerned that it did not adequately account for changes in projected enrollment. For the most part, I heard very little of the the periphery of town criticism regarding this update.

It is clear that the bond language was inspired by the updated version of the FMP. The next post in the series will draw from this background to look at what voters can expect to happen should be bond pass.