Iowa City bond plan misses key priorities
I will be voting no on the proposed ICCSD general obligation bond Tuesday for many reasons. I’ll mention a few here, but I can be reached by any stakeholder who wishes to discuss it in detail.
First, there is no serious commitment to career and technical education. Nowhere in the $191.5 million bond language is there any mention of adding facilities for career and technical education at any of our schools. At several school board candidates’ forums, questions were asked about the importance of offering career and technical programming and courses in the ICCSD. All candidates recognized the importance of career and technical education for our students and some mentioned programming varying from construction and automotive to vocational agricultural and FFA.
Over the past 15 to 20 years, we have seen a major decimation of our career and technical course offerings at the building level. Our homebuilding program, which was eliminated, built 39 homes in the ICCSD. This curriculum and programming should be brought back immediately, and we can celebrate the construction of our 40th house with student labor. The Des Moines Register of Aug. 20 and the Cedar Rapids Gazette of July 21 talk of a workforce crisis and a lack of skilled, trained workers jeopardizing the future of our state.
Career and technical facilities must be written into any bond language to ensure construction. As Yul Brynner’s character said in “The Ten Commandments:” “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
Second, I am deeply concerned about our special education program in the past five years. Due to serious violations of law, the Iowa Department of Education intervened in 2016. They will continue to oversee our special education program for two more years due to past deficiencies. The racial disproportionality we have in the use of seclusion rates is alarming. The need for proper facilities to handle growing special education needs are not specifically addressed in the GO bond language despite increasing special education needs. The absence of a specified commitment in bond language to special education facility needs (such as conversion of seclusion rooms to calming rooms) shows a lack of concern for our present and future special education students.
Let’s plan for it, let’s budget for it, let’s bond for it, let’s build it. “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
Additional concerns are the demolition of a highly successful elementary school (an $11 million asset) without a clear plan for future use and the district’s decades-long inability to provide accessible school and playground facilities for all students — remember, ADA isn’t an option, it’s the law. And athletic facilities on a par with a Ferrari when a Ford would do are specified in bond. The bond language needs to specify dollar amounts for specific projects to assure accountability.
Ultimately, the community will decide how the bond will succeed or fail. As a community member, I am one vote, and as a board member, I am one vote. If the bond succeeds, I will be a fiscal watchdog of district funds, as I have tried to be in my nearly two years of service on the board. If the bond fails, the present and new board members will prioritize needs using the FMP as a guide to bring to the public a smaller bond as soon as six months after this one, and continue with the needed renovation and construction of our district’s facilities.
My views are mine alone and do not reflect the views of the ICCSD board as a whole, and are expressed here as my right as a U.S. citizen granted me under the Constitution of the United States, which is not superseded by any board policy or other board governance.
• Phil Hemingway serves on the Iowa City school board