Trust is central issue in Iowa City bond vote

Iowa City Community Schools Superintendent, Stephen Murley (right) talks with attendants before the groundbreaking of the Liberty High School in North Liberty on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)
Iowa City Community Schools Superintendent, Stephen Murley (right) talks with attendants before the groundbreaking of the Liberty High School in North Liberty on Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./The Gazette)

I am voting no on the $191.5 million Iowa City Community School District bond proposal Sept. 12. It comes down to trust.

Like many, I have lost confidence in the current administration and school board majority for the following reasons:

• The underlying philosophy of the Facilities Master Plan that pushes for larger schools and insists on the closure of neighborhood schools such as Hoover Elementary.

• The school board’s decision to silence the 2,300 residents who signed a petition to put the question of Hoover demolition on the ballot.

• The proven culture of intimidation and retaliation that has permeated our district. Even during this campaign, we have had supporters decline to take yard signs for fear of retaliation. Several have given anonymous contributions ($25 or less) because they are afraid to have their names seen on campaign disclosure forms.

• The school board’s insistence on a “negative judgment policy,” which intimidates parents and school board members from speaking out on important issues.

• The school district’s misuse of plywood boxes called “seclusion rooms.”

Some want to argue these issues have nothing to do with the bond. One county supervisor even discounted our community’s concerns by calling them “petty” differences. However, the bond money will not be managed by some unrelated abstract entity. It is going into the hands of an administration and board majority that has ignored community input and needs.

At $191.5 million, this is the largest school bond in the history of the state. Including interest, we will be looking at over $250 million. Some think that because they don’t own property, they won’t pay for this bond, but that is not the case. Low-income renters, especially those whose landlords own multiple properties, will surely see a rent increase.

The facilities plan the school district claims the bond will fund has changed many times. There have even been changes made during the course of this campaign. Within the last year, there have been changes to the school district’s projected enrollment numbers.

We are putting our future selves at a disadvantage by trying to pass such a large bond all at once. We soon will realize the district has overcompensated in some areas and underestimated or ignored needs in others, like at Hills Elementary. It is hard to imagine voters agreeing to fill in the gaps with even a modest bond after committing to this oversized debt.

Some believe that we are voting on the facilities plan, but in actuality we are voting on very vague ballot language.

In an email exchange with school board member Chris Liebig, Superintendent Steve Murley admitted the bond proposal was written to allow for significant changes in spending. We are told the district needs some “flexibility” in how our money will be spent. However, anyone with common sense can see that there is not just flexibility in the ballot wording, but miles of room for change.

Most people campaigning to vote no have never voted against a school bond before. But when you consider all of the above-mentioned concerns, it’s impossible for many of us to hand over such a large amount of money to an administration that changed its mind and consequently broke commitments to the community.

While the bond language promises many things, what it doesn’t include is worrying. Many would like to see a smaller bond or bonds focusing on priorities such as HVAC, space for career and technology classes, special education facilities, and “sensory calming rooms,” which are actual rooms rather than plywood seclusion boxes with padded walls.


There is a reason we vote on school bond proposals. Not every idea that comes out of a well-meaning group of people is necessarily good for the community. This is why we have elections and vote on the expenditure of money, particularly large sums of money. Please visit for more information.

• Martha Hampel is an Iowa City resident, district parent of three and local activist. Comments:



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