Don't redistrict schools, say forum participants

Gazette, The (Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA) - Friday, February 5, 2010
Author: By Bekah Porter, Correspondent

IOWA CITY -- The answer was no. 

Last night, more than 400 parents, teachers and concerned residents gathered at the Parkview Church in Iowa City to respond to the Iowa City district's proposal to redistrict its 24 schools. 

In the first few minutes of the public forum, a school official asked if the community could support altering the boundaries based on data concerning reduced or free lunches. 

Much of the crowd hollered, "No." 

According to school officials, the boundaries should be altered because of an imbalance in the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, a common measure of poverty by educational organizations. 

About 27 percent of the district's students last year qualified for these lunches. However, seven of the 24 schools had rates of 50 percent or higher. 

Schools with higher free or reduced-price lunch rates usually have a more difficult time providing quality education, officials said during the forum. 

In November, the Iowa City school board proposed redistricting in such a way that no building has free or reduced-price lunch rates 20 percentage points higher than the district average. 

This task could be "ambitious -- some might even say impossible," Superintendent Lane Plugge said. "But we're unable to maintain the status quo." 

According to the plan presented at last night's forum, 16 of the 24 schools would be affected by the boundary changes. 

Schools affected in the 2010-11 school year would include Coralville Central, Kirkwood, Wickham, Van Allen and Penn. Schools that would be affected in 2012-13 are Hills, Horn, Lemme, Lincoln, Longfellow, Mann, Roosevelt, Shimek, Twain, Weber and Wood. 

For some, the proposed changes incited anger. 

"It's incredibly frustrating," said Lee Kimball, whose daughter attends Lemme Elementary, which would eventually be divided among four different schools. "My daughter is going to a school with an Iowa Tests of Basic School rating of 91 percent, and she'd be transferred to a school with less than a 50 percent rating. Her quality of education would be affected." 

Other attendees came because they knew little of the proposal and were surprised at the emotions displayed. 

"I am surprised at how people are reacting, but I understand how they feel strongly about it," said Marcia Leick, whose children attend Van Allen Elementary in North Liberty. 

Iowa City school board member Toni Cilek said she expected strong reactions from parents. 

"I knew this was going to be a hot-button issue," she said. "But to see this kind of turnout is great. We need to hear this feedback." 

The board could vote on the issue as early as March 9, but school officials say the public forums are designed to allow the community to have a say. Already, the district has conducted several surveys to determine public opinion.