Iowa City school board: Long-term planning is vital

The Iowa City Community School District has made significant progress on the facilities front with the adoption of the Facilities Master Plan. It’s a road map which has already led to significant improvements in our children’s learning environment at schools such as Penn and Twain and to construction of new facilities to address capacity issues.

On other fronts, progress in long-term planning has been more challenging. The state has approved funding increases averaging less than 2 percent over the last five years, including a slim 1.25 percent this year. Without revenue to hire needed teachers, class sizes are rising markedly; average classes at our high schools, for example, have increased nearly 15 percent in just three years. Languages, athletics, arts and other programs have been reduced. And there’s no sign that things are going to get better anytime soon.

In this difficult period, it is vital that the board and the administration focus on long-term planning — on being proactive rather than reactive. The district must develop a strategy for dealing with what could be a multiyear period of tough financial decisions. Advance planning will enable the board to prioritize changes that affect our children’s educational opportunities. That’s a far better approach than pretending things are about to get better and then having to rely on the administration to make decisions on its own every May and June about where to cut costs.

As many people know from personal experience, it’s difficult in times of financial crisis to focus on long term goals. When you’re struggling to feed your family or keep up with the mortgage payments, it’s difficult to think very far downstream — to envision a better future and figure out how to get there. But that’s also when it’s most important.

Developing a strategic framework for how boundary decisions will be made going forward would be similarly valuable. The process should identify the educational, logistical, budgetary and community factors that are impacted by boundary changes and establish guidelines that reflect the values of the community. That’s a much better system than having 13,000 students and their families watch an ever-changing process and cross their fingers hoping that those in charge make good decisions.

I fully support the efforts of the current board president to focus on strategic planning initiatives, and I encourage the community to voice its support for the process as well.

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