Iowa City School election a referendum on equity, attendance

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Chris Lynch, guest columnist

We are at a historical time in the Iowa City school district. We have a strategic plan focused on delivering our educational mission focused on student achievement. We have a 10-year facilities master plan that is transforming our learning environment for our students and our staff. Three years into the plan we are on time and on budget. We even have an attendance zone master plan based on intensive community engagement over the past three years.

We are a high performing district. City and West are both top five high schools in the state; both are recognized as being among the best high schools in the nation. Over 60 percent of our high school students are in the top 25 percent of the nation. When students stay in our district they are well prepared for their future after high school.

We also have challenges. Our district strategic goals are focused on improving achievement for all our students. Our reading and math proficiencies need to be higher. We need to close the achievement gap in our subgroups where proficiency is in the 50 percent range. This and improving educational experiences is the compelling need driving our strategic plan.

This an important time to ensure we understand our history, or else we are bound to repeat it:

• From 2006-10, there was great concern about programming inequities between City and West. At that time, City had about 1,400 students and West had about 1,800. In response, there was a commitment made to maintain equitable programming between all of our high schools.

• From 2008-13, during the debate on whether to build a third high school, there was great concern about creating a new, elite high school at the expense of City and West. Again there was a commitment to maintain three equitable high schools in size, facilities and programming. We need three excellent high schools to serve all of our students.

• In our country and our community there is a long history of racial and diversity inequity. Anything that looks like segregation of the past or looks like a lack of inclusiveness of the past has no place in the Iowa City school district.

With all this in mind it is very important that we have three equitable high schools. The community and the board have collectively spent thousands of hours developing secondary attendance zones which balanced all the competing priorities. The attendance zones approved in May 2015 balanced capacities, balanced barriers to learning and also balanced diversity while trying to be as geographically compact as possible.

The high school boundaries approved last month destroy this balance:

• Liberty will not have programming equity with City and West due to lower student enrollment.

• West will operate at or over capacity for the next 10 years. It is not clear how we execute renovations at West under this scenario.

• The barriers to learning will be 2-4 times higher at City and West than Liberty. This is not equitable.

• There is no balance in diversity. This will not support an equitable learning environment.

So, my message to parents:

Liberty will not have similar course offerings to the other high schools. If the GO Bond in Sept 2017 does not pass, Liberty athletic facilities will not be completed as planned. Critical investments like Christine Grant Elementary, Liberty expansion, and North central expansion may not happen.

West will continue to be over capacity. Completing renovations while at or over capacity will be a challenge. The system will be greatly stressed with inequities in barriers to learning.

City Parents: You understand this debate the best since you have been involved in it over the past decade. Please help the entire district understand the challenge here.

This election is a referendum on equity, on the facilities master plan and on attendance zones. To make progress and move forward in these critical areas, please vote to restore the balance approved in May 2015.

• Chris Lynch is a member of the Iowa City school board. This column represents his opinion and not necessarily those of the board. Comments: Chris.Lynch@iowacityschools.org

More opinions on the July 19 Iowa City School Board election: 

• Diversity in school helps kids thrive

• Balance schools, minimize barriers to education

• Balance and equity in Iowa City schools

• School boundaries shouldn't worsen transportation barriers

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