Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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May 24, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     5/28/13

In this edition:

*ICCSD Facilities
*Property Tax Rates
*Did You Know?

*ICCSD Facilities
As you may or may not know, I have served on the ICCSD Facilities Recommendation Committee. I really appreciate having had the opportunity to give some feedback. Below are my thoughts. Needless to say, the opinions here are mine and do not represent those of the committee.

I must begin by crediting the ICCSD for their efforts at accepting input. People will always complain, but I felt this was one of the better outreach efforts I have ever seen. While I would have appreciated holding some events at lower-income schools, the e-mails, calls, and media coverage were excellent.

First, there are a couple areas in which I do not want to spend any meaningful money. One is building safety. Sorry, but someone with a shotgun who wants to get into a building is going to get in. I realize that thought can be unsettling, but the bottom line is that we cannot spend enough money to guarantee protection against school shootings. I fear that the ICCSD will overspend on “safety” measures in a knee jerk reaction to recent events. While our guts might think this is important, common sense tells us no amount of money can guarantee safety from a determined shooter.

The other area where I feel we should not spend any money is infrastructure replacement. The consultants spoke about using the bond money to cover roofs, leaky plumbing, etc. I am sorry, but that is why we pay the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL). We are already taxed for these basic repairs. I know, I know – part of the reason we are here in the first place is a long-term failure on the part of the ICCSD to fund the upkeep of buildings. I know there are unmet maintenance needs. But it is high time that the ICCSD took building upkeep seriously. I think the public needs to continue to apply pressure to ensure that basic maintenance gets done. Using the bond money for this purpose just doesn’t cut it.

The consultants threw several pre-screened scenarios at us, while eliminating others. I wanted to know if the Board already had parameters. The consultants said no. Right after that, Board members shared that they did, in fact, have parameters. The main cause for my concern was that fully half of the scenarios call for moving from k-6 elementary schools to k-5 schools, with junior highs going to 6-7-8. Now I am no expert on the difference of the educational outcomes between these approaches. But I am smart enough to know that it is a big change that the community has yet to discuss. Before I spent a lot of time debating such scenarios, I wanted to know if the Board would even entertain such a change. It sounds as though they would - perhaps.

The consultants also spent a lot of time talking about “21st Century Schools” – buildings that have large, flexible spaces, lots of natural light, climate control, fully wired, on big expanses of land. Obviously, in a perfect world, this would describe every building in the ICCSD. But our world is not perfect. We KNOW Bourlog is a nice school. We also know that we cannot build all new schools, nor do we want to. So what can we do in addition to new construction? I wish the consultants had spent more time discussing renovations and less on new construction.

Nowhere is this more evident than the Roosevelt debacle. It seems pretty clear to me that the majority of the ICCSD community is unhappy with the way the closing of Roosevelt Elementary was handled. That begs the question: are those same critics willing to make major investments in Lincoln, Coralville Central, Mann, and Longfellow? If not, it seems hypocritical. I am willing to make those investments, and that leads to my next point.

What about accessibility? The ADA is the law of the land. While it is tempting to keep Mann, Longfellow, and Lincoln “as they are” and avoid spending millions of dollars, that flies in the face of the idea that our public buildings are for everyone. Plus, the law states that if you spend a certain percentage on renovation, you MUST meet ADA standards. So it is unlikely you could spend the money to air condition these schools and not be forced to meet ADA standards, anyhow.

Then the question becomes – do you spend the money to upgrade these facilities, or do you build new? Do you tear down Mann and build a new school on the adjacent city park? Do you tear down Coralville Central and build a new school on the adjacent city park? Do you tear down Longfellow and build a new school on the adjacent soccer field? And what about Lincoln, where no such option exists?

These are TOUGH questions! I can certainly understand how reasonable people could disagree. That said, I believe strongly in neighborhood schools. We cannot continue to hollow out our core. It will cost more, but I feel we should bite the bullet and invest what it takes in these 4 schools.

The consultants seem pretty set on presenting scenarios that include the closing of certain elementary schools. No Board or staff members seem to be willing to own these ideas, and the public seems opposed. So why are we spending so much time discussing it? True, it may be that operating costs will someday outpace the District’s ability to pay. But that is always the case in K-12 education, which depends so heavily on the whims of the Iowa Legislature. This is a ten-year plan. Until we are actually looking at a shortfall, I’d keep moving forward.

Equity has also been a big issue. Air conditioning and multipurpose rooms were a major part of the “21st Century Schools” the consultants described. The day may be coming where we have longer school years; it is difficult to imagine that being very successful without air conditioning! We have AC and multipurpose rooms in several locations, but lack them in more. Let’s simply suck it up and address these issues.

We should eliminate the temporaries at the lower grade levels where we can. Penn Elementary is packed, and there is room to build an addition. Let’s build it. Southeast Junior High has the same set of issues – build on there, also.

As I see it, there are three huge issues that I have not addressed: First, what about Hills Elementary? We have space at Hills. Use it. There is no difference between kids from Hills going to Iowa City and kids from Iowa City going to Hills. We talk and talk about neighborhood schools in Iowa City; doesn’t Hills deserve the same treatment? I’m suggesting we spend LOTS of money on renovations of existing schools. If that is going to be the case, we cannot afford to build all the new facilities we want right now. Again, this is a ten-year plan. We need to utilize our existing capacity. It will not be the first choice of many parents in the District, but I say assign enough kids to Hills to fill it up. Commit to keeping Hills full at least until 2022. After all, Hills now has municipal water on the way. I can see a population boom there in the next ten years!

Secondly, what about new elementary schools? Add two of the three proposed new elementaries, with another to come in a few years. The numbers clearly justify this. Voters approved the concept in the RPS. The rest of these decisions relate closely to Hills. I say we build two new elementary buildings, expand SEJH and Penn, and fully utilize Hills. Then take a few years to see where we are. The third new elementary will undoubtedly be needed soon.

Thirdly, what about a new comprehensive High School? I think graduating classes of 600 are much too large. Voters expect a new high school after the RPS vote. I think we should give it to them.

This new school should be north of I-80 and should open as soon as is practicable once West and City hit a combined total of 3800 students. Given that it will take 2+ years to build, you should be able to open with West at 1400 students, City at 1400, and the new school at 1000 and change. Design the new school to be easily expanded to 1500 (excess gym and cafeteria space, etc.), and deal with that expansion when the time comes.

People did not vote for the RPS to close schools. The voters recognized that needs exist across the District. I think the ICCSD Board should step up and address those things.

That said, there is one school that probably does need to be closed for the good of the whole district, and it pains me to say which one: Hoover Elementary.

My three children went to Hoover. I was a Hoover PTA member. My wife served on the Board of Hoover’s before and after school program. I coached girl’s and boy’s basketball teams in the tiny gym. We will always be Hoover Hawks! My fondest memories are not of my own childhood in elementary school; they are memories of my kids’ time at Hoover. I am actually tearing up as I write this! Hoover is the closest school to my house, and the closest school to my heart.

But the fact is, the City High building site is relatively small. You could build a small parking ramp and build up a floor, but at some point you simply get too crowded. High school kids need some space. Sacrificing Hoover to City High would allow for stability at City High for decades to come.

In addition, Hoover has become a bit of a SINA transfer school; the majority of the students are driven or bussed in. Plus, the surrounding neighborhood is full of empty nesters. By the time the neighborhood turns over to young families, the neighborhood will be in the habit of going to Longfellow, Lucas, and Lemme. It may be personally painful, but closing Hoover seems important to the long-term success of City High.

I will freely admit – my preferred solutions are not the most inexpensive way to go. That is the price of the growth we are experiencing. Some of these issues have been ignored for 50 years! I applaud the ICCSD for taking these issues on, and I’m willing to pay for it!

My thoughts are above; now it is time for you to weigh in! Contact the members of the ICCSD Board and let them know what you think!

*Property Tax Rates
         Lots of people like to lie about property tax rates in Johnson County, claiming, “they are some of the highest in the country!”

         Bullcrap! Here are the facts - 43 Iowa Counties have higher property tax rates than Johnson County, ranking Johnson 44 out of the 99 counties. (Source: Iowa State Association of Counties.)

         Interestingly, this fallacy is perpetuated on the website of Supervisor John Etheredge. (See: I would love to debate this issue with John; we’ll see if he is game.

         I’m going to run this every week in Salvos, just to be sure you remember it. So when somebody says otherwise, you can set them straight.

*DID YOU KNOW?  The ICCSD is projected to have over 15,000 students in the next ten years.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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