Monday, June 26, 2017

What happens if the bond doesn’t pass?

This is the 3rd part of a several part series on the proposed ICCSD G.O. Bond. The first post was general information about the bond, and the second post was about what would likely happen if the bond passes. This post is about what will likely happen if the bond doesn’t pass. I confess that this post is much more speculative than my post about what would happen if the bond passes. There is a good reason for that. We don’t know a lot about what will happen if the bond doesn’t pass. In what follows, I’ll provide some information, pose some questions, and make some predictions about what happens if the bond doesn’t pass.

When can another bond be passed?

Legally, no part of the September 12 bond can be sent for a revote for six-months. But when would another bond proposal, if any, be made? It is hard to know. Suppose the bond fails, but that it garners the type of support that the RPS vote did in 2013 (e.g., around 55%). It is highly unlikely that the bond receives significantly less than that. If it receives 55% but less than 60%, I suspect you’ll have a significant number of board members who would want to tinker around with the current FMP, rather than revising the whole project from the ground up. However, some other board members might want to start over and develop a new approach.

If the bond fails by that margin, how likely is it that tinkering with the current FMP would produce a bond capable of getting 60% of the vote? What sort of tinkering would the board do in that case? If a new bond is developed from the ground up, how long will that take? Given our past timelines, I’d suspect that it would take a minimum of two years to have a workable bond proposal if it was developed from the ground up. Would such a bond pass? I don’t know.

For a little history: In 1991, a bond for five projects failed. Seven months later in 1992, a smaller bond also failed that included several of those projects. Seven months later at the end of 1992, two bonds were put forward. The first was identical to the smaller bond earlier in 1992, and then it passed but it was about 14 months after the original bond was proposed. Another bond which had the remaining projects from the original 1991 bond failed (although it had about 57% support).

My prediction: If the bond fails, it will have between 55% and 60% of the vote. In which case, I don’t think we will have a replacement bond that will pass for at least 18-months, which would functionally delay the FMP by 2-years. If the board tinkers with it, and puts forward something quickly; then I think it probably fails a second time (like in the early 90s). After which, it would pass as residents see the specific disadvantages of doing nothing. If the board starts from scratch, then it will probably take at least two years to get something ready.

What will happen to the projects in the bond?

The projects that are slated to begin next Summer have already begun the planning phases (e.g., Mann and Lincoln renovations). At a minimum, these projects would be delayed until another bond is passed or until other funding sources arrive. (It is also unclear which, if any, of these projects would be on a new bond were it developed from the ground up.) In any case, it seems pretty clear that neither the new elementary school in North Liberty nor Liberty High’s comprehensive athletic facilities would be complete for their slated opening in 2019. Liberty High is opening this Fall, but 2019 is the first year that Liberty High will have all four grades at its campus. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the renovations at Mann and Lincoln will take place over the 2018-2019 school year as planned. This delay could very well have a domino effect throughout the district (as I will discuss later), but at a minimum, all other projects would be similarly delayed. I also think that failure of this bond would likely result in a process whereby the administration and the board try to isolate the “most important” projects. Such a process would likely prioritize projects that have the backing of those who are most well-off in the district, and back away from projects that don’t have as many advocates (i.e., those projects that help those who are most vulnerable).

My prediction: The first seven-projects on the bond (see here) would be included on any future bond. There will be a lot of in-district fighting over subsequent projects, and those who are most vulnerable in our district will get the short end of the stick (e.g., resulting in less investment in facilities for attendance areas at Kirkwood, Alexander, and Grant Wood), and subsequent projects beyond the seven would primarily benefit the most well-off.

How much would costs likely increase for each year of delay?

This is hard to gauge as well. Construction costs have gone up pretty substantially since the FMP was adopted three years ago. For example, the original proposed cost was $14 million for the new North Liberty elementary school, but it is now $19 million. Over a four-year period, the estimated cost has increased by over 33% (averaging about 8% per year by my rough calculations). There were similar increases for other projects. So, suppose we just did the first seven projects mentioned in my previous post. Those projects account for $127 million, and most of them are long overdue. With a two-year delay, those projects alone would be almost $150 million dollars.

My prediction: The cost of a new bond will be at least $150 million dollars.

What happens to attendance zones that were made under the assumption that the projects in the bond would be complete?

Some of the 2019 attendance zones assumed that the bond would pass. For example, the board assumed that Grant Elementary would be built by 2019. The board assumed that Hoover (new unless otherwise stated) would have Lincoln and Mann swinging through the facility in 2018-2019, and thus would not be able to open until 2019. The board also assumed that Liberty High would be a fully comprehensive 1,500-seat high school with all the extracurricular activities available at our other two comprehensive high schools. These assumptions could very well turn out to be false (some of them definitely will) if the bond does not pass this year.

Would we need to reconsider high school boundaries given that Liberty High might not have outdoor athletic fields or since it might not have enough seats for the students that have been assigned there?

How would the district handle elementary attendance areas? It is unlikely that Grant would be ready to open in 2019, and thus, North Liberty elementary schools would remain extremely overcrowded until a new elementary is built there.

How will the district handle the complications associated with the swing-school situation? Under the bond, Longfellow would swing into the Hoover building in 2017-2018 as Longfellow is renovated. In 2018-2019, Mann and Lincoln would simultaneously swing through Hoover as they are both renovated. But if the bond fails, those projects become much more complicated. Suppose that Grant and the renovations at Lincoln and Mann are funded in a smaller bond one year later (an optimistic supposition!). In that situation, swinging Lincoln and Mann through Hoover (new) would delay its opening and the East-side redistricting for one year. But it would be difficult to renovate Mann and Lincoln without swinging the students out of those buildings--the plot of land at each school is too small to accommodate the 6- or 10-plex, and putting those at Mann or Lincoln would delay other projects that need them during the 2019-2020 school year. Furthermore, it may be that Windsor Ridge families near Hoover would push to have their children stay at Hoover starting in 2018? Would the board decide to swing Lincoln or Mann through the old Hoover building? What effect would that have on City High’s construction timeline?

There are a number of unexplored questions about what happens to attendance areas at elementary and secondary levels if the bond fails.

My prediction: The board will make some quick decisions on the fly in order to address these boundary concerns. The changes made will primarily take into account the interests and goals of those who are most well-off and largely ignore the interests of those who are most vulnerable, largely because of the speed required to make these decisions and because the voices of the most-well off tend to be magnified in such circumstances.

Will the board keep Superintendent Murley?

If the bond does not pass, what will that mean for Superintendent Murley’s position? We don’t really know. Ultimately, whether he is retained is a decision that the new board must make. The school board election is more likely than the bond vote to have an impact on the Superintendent’s job security. As far as making educated guesses about what will happen, I think two of the four remaining board member would be open to going another direction with the Superintendent. I know that Director Hemingway has said as much. And we know that three seats are up for election--two of those seats have had board members who support the Superintendent, and one seat has had a director who does not. If that distribution is flipped (two want to replace and one does not), then Superintendent Murley's tenure could very well be in jeopardy.

I do know that one of the big fears, expressed somewhat frequently over the last year, regarding replacing the Superintendent has been that it could scuttle the bond. I'm not sure what effect a failed bond would have on Superintendent Murley. If it fails by a small margin (e.g., greater than 55% but less than 60%), then that will probably ensure that Superintendent Murley stays around at least until some bond is passed (unless he finds a job elsewhere). But if the bond passes, then needing a bond to pass is no longer a consideration in favor of retaining the Superintendent.

I also know that if the bond fails, state funding stays where it is, and there is little coherent direction from the board, then we won't be an attractive landing spot for good superintendent candidates.

My prediction: If the bond fails, it will fail by a relatively slim margin (no less than 55%). If it fails by such a margin, then we will retain the Superintendent until another bond passes or longer.

Will non-Facilities-based plans or procedures changes because of the bond vote? Is there any good reason to think that special education policies or achievement gaps between low-income or racial minorities versus the overall population will change if the bond fails? The answer is most likely no. The way to change policies is through having a strong, capable board able to make such decision and hold the administration accountable. Luckily, we have a school board election on September 12 along with the bond.

My prediction: The only way to get changes regarding policies disagreements will be through voting for like-minded school board members and their public activism. The failure of the bond will have no effect on the matter.


  1. I know this is an unpopular thing to say, but I really think putting improvement into Lincoln is a bad idea. The school should be closed. Half the kids are bused there, and the school is so old and crumbling, plus it is on such a tiny piece of land. As a facility it is terrible. I can't believe most of the community finds it reasonable to keep open. If I were to tweak the FMP I would close that school and add to Shimek and keep the students there.

    1. It is unpopular to close any school, particularly a school in the center-city area. But there are reasonably strong arguments in favor of closing Lincoln, some of them you mention.

      The renovations at Lincoln would address the facilities problem (though not the tiny piece of land problem), and the busing situation may change in 2019 after redistricting takes affect.

      I don't have strong opinions about the matter, but I lean against making significant changes unless there are clear warrants for doing so.

  2. I probably need to go do my own digging here, but I want to note that I'm curious about what else was involved in that series of bonds in the early 1990s, beyond the size, and what effect the placement of projects involved and the geographic divisions in the District might have had on them.