Vote for Equity within the School District

[Note: This post pertains to an important election in the Iowa City Community School District. For readers who do not know the Iowa City area, the School District includes the cities of Iowa City, Coralville, and Hills, part of North Liberty, and certain unincorporated parts of Johnson County.]

On July 19 voters will elect a new member to the Iowa City Community School District’s Board of Directors. Three fine people have put themselves forward as candidates in this important election.

To decide who I personally should support, I have had lengthy one-on-one conversations with Paul Roseler and J. P. Claussen, as well as having lengthy background conversations with almost all Board members and principals of two key schools. I regret that Janice Weiner — who has considerable potential as a future candidate — and I have not yet been able to schedule a time to meet. [See note below.]

In those conversations I have listened carefully to determine what Claussen and Roseler advocate. I have also made sure they understand the concerns expressed in a letter I sent to the Board on behalf of Iowa City’s City Council.

The letter emphasized the importance of achieving relatively equal balance in Low SES and ELL student ratios at the three major high schools. Large disparities at the high school level risk producing significant differences in the quality of learning and educational achievement at those schools. Moreover, large disparities are very likely to encourage higher-income white families with children to prefer living in Liberty’s attendance area over living in City’s or West’s. Large disparities will also encourage developers to build upper-end housing to attract those new residents, especially on currently vacant land adjacent to new schools in Liberty’s attendance area.

The letter also expressed the Council’s concern that approval of large disparities at the high school level would depart significantly from the Facilities Master Plan, which the Board had approved after a lengthy public process and which Iowa City’s Council had publicly supported quite strongly. Board acceptance of large disparities at the high school level will, in our view, make it much less likely that a majority of Iowa City voters will support passage of that much-needed referendum.

Claussen basically counters that efforts to achieve reasonable balance at the high school level by assigning Kirkwood students to North Central and Liberty High and Alexander students to Northwest and West puts unnecessary and costly transportation burdens on kids from high-poverty areas. Drawing upon personal observation and experience, he also argues that a great majority of Kirkwood and Alexander parents think such assignments would not serve their kids well.

I’ve known Claussen for more than 20 years. I like him a lot and think he has the potential to be a fine Board member. Likewise, I think the Board would benefit from having a teacher among its members. That said, I believe he dramatically understates the long-term negative consequences of permitting one new high school to open with a student body that is substantially whiter and wealthier than the two existing ones.

To deny that perceived school quality strongly affects parents’ decisions about where to live and to deny that white parents have fled neighborhoods and cities that have, in their judgment, become too poor and too black is to deny evidence provided by the past 65 years of suburbanization in the U. S. Moreover, in a 2006 study, Bayoh and co‐authors found that a 1% increase in school quality (as measured by test scores) caused a 3.7% increase in the likelihood of relocation to that school enrollment area. And in a more recent study, Billingham and Hunt (2016) found that white parents chose to relocate away from schools with a high number of black students, and that this effect is independent of housing values, poverty, and crime rates.

These are facts which we ignore at our peril.

I’ve known Paul Roseler for a much shorter period of time, but I know he has been attending Board meetings regularly for quite some time. And I’m convinced he is already up-to-speed on the issues confronting the District. More important, I’m persuaded that Roseler supports the key elements of the Facilities Master Plan, will work hard to help pass the 2017 bond referendum, and will vote to ensure balance among the three high schools.

For these reasons, I will vote for Paul Roseler on the 19th. If he is elected, I hope Roseler and other Board members will reach out to Alexander and Kirkwood parents and students, listen to their concerns, treat them with love and respect, and make adjustments that respond to their concerns while also ensuring that Kirkwood students attend Liberty and Alexander students attend West.

Note: On July 15, I had an opportunity to speak at length with Janice Weiner. She has a very impressive body of education and experience, is completely committed to ensuring that all students receive a high quality education, and has very compelling ideas concerning vocational and language education. With one more year to establish and strengthen relationships within the larger community, she will be well-positioned to be an outstanding School Board member.

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5 Responses to Vote for Equity within the School District

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful and well stated points. I think highly of Claussen as a person, and appreciate the work he’s done for good causes here, but I agree that he understates the long term structural problems that would flow from the secondary plan he supports. If he weren’t set to become the deciding vote in favor of such a plan, I’d be likely to consider supporting him. But not in this race. I also think that the transportation burdens he cites are slightly overstated by Claussen and by Directors Liebig and Roetlin. Alexander and Kirkwood are both outside of comfortable walking distance to either secondary school which they’ve been assigned to. Students would be bus dependent in either case, and reducing that bus ride 5 minutes wouldn’t alleviate that hardship. Hills, which has a similar economic demographic as Alexander and Kirkwood, has been assigned to both City and West in the past.

    Its also worth noting that Board allowed Kirkwood students the option of choosing to attend Northwest rather than North Central for Junior HIgh, because the difference in distance there is more dramatic. Similar options for some other schools might help too. The Junior Highs in this district are in terrible locations, making it hard to balance distance and demographics in a way that makes sense, at least with entirely clean feeders.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  2. Devin Redmond says:

    In your blog post above, can you please explain why you believe a vote for Claussen will result in this >> “Board acceptance of large disparities at the high school level will, in our view, make it much less likely that a majority of Iowa City voters will support passage of that much-needed referendum.” Thank you!

    • jthrog65 says:

      No surveys have been conducted, so I cannot present any hard data in support of the statement. In the end, therefore, the statement reflects political judgment based on conversations with a variety of Iowa City voters, as well as political instinct. The outcome of the Board election on July 19 will provide a pretty strong indicator of whether I’m right or wrong.

    • Devin- I certainly can’t speak for JIm, but my fear in that regard, one that others share, is that when you have a school board that approves a secondary boundary plan that creates disparities of wealth and race between one school and the other two, and then that same board goes to the general public and asks for approval of a bond measure that requires 60% to pass, then a good portion of the general public in the district is likely to feel disenchanted or distrustful of the board, and not very enthusiastic about approving spending authority for a large amount of money.

  3. Devin Redmond says:

    Jim and Eric, thank you for your clarifications and for sharing your thoughts!

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