Iowa City school board delays vote on redistricting

Board members argue over whether they should have discussed issue

The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
The Iowa City Community School District Headquarters in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Iowa City school board Tuesday night voted to delay a discussion on redrawing school boundaries, but it wasn’t quite that simple.

The board voted 4-3 before an overflow crowd of a few hundred people to postpone the redistricting item on the agenda. The board will instead hold a work session on the matter in the next month before bringing it back for a vote at a regular board meeting.

All seven board members appeared to be OK with not voting Tuesday on the boundary proposal, which would move about 1,400 elementary school students to new schools in fall 2015 to accommodate the district’s diversity policy and the construction of more classroom space.

Board members Patti Fields, Chris Lynch and Tuyet Dorau were opposed to not at least receiving a presentation from administrators and asking initial questions Tuesday night.

“We just basically shut down an entire room, and I find that to be absolutely deplorable on our end of things,” said Dorau, who twice drew applause from the crowd with that statement.

But board President Sally Hoelscher said there are still plenty of chances for members of the community to give their feedback.

“It will come before the board again,” she said. “You will have an opportunity to speak before the full board at that time.”

District administrators Monday night released revised boundary changes of the two clusters of elementary schools they are currently reviewing. The only changes from the previous drafts were the removal from redistricting of one neighborhood from each cluster.

Board members said they wanted more time to review the maps.

The decision not to discuss redistricting Tuesday, and therefore not allow the public to share their thoughts, drew negative responses in the crowd and even online.

“Wow, I’m just speechless,” parent Amy Nielsen wrote on Twitter.

Hoelscher more than once threatened to clear the room if people did not stop making comments and applauding while board members were trying to hear each other speak.

The school board did spend a significant amount of time discussing $3.6 million in budget cuts announced last month.

Those cuts were not changed, but the board did vote, 5-2, to freeze the salaries of central office administrators next fiscal year.

More than 40 people in the crowd signed up to address the board about programs they support that are to be eliminated or reduced, including music and language classes.

Another is cutting seventh-grade football, and City High varsity football coach Dan Sabers, who also coaches junior high sports, spoke against that.

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