116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORTH LIBERTY - Parents from North Liberty and northern Coralville say they don't want the Iowa City school board to choose between building a third high school in their area or adding more space for elementary students elsewhere; rather, they want a comprehensive plan that solves all of the district's needs.
“This is not about pitting one side of the district against the other side of the district,” North Liberty resident Jen Greer said. “We don't want the rifts that already exist to grow wider, and we're also not here to attack one side or the other.”
About 50 people attended a community meeting on the matter Sunday at the North Liberty Community Center. The high school issue has been around for a few years, but the debate has ramped up in recent months with parents and officials from the various cities that are part of the district weighing in.
One side argues that a new high school is needed to relieve overcrowding at West High and to serve the growing northern and western portions of the district. The other side says elementary school needs in eastern Iowa City are more pressing, and high school students can be shifted to undercapacity City High.
Current board policy calls for $32 million in special tax money to be used for the construction of a third high school. But in recent weeks, a majority of the school board members have said they are interested in taking that money - proceeds from the voter-approved school infrastructure local-option sales tax, or SILO - and using it to build new elementary schools and elementary school additions instead.
At the gathering Sunday, several parents said they felt “defrauded” and would consider moving away or sending their children to a different district if a third high school is not built. Others said none of the current school board members hails from the northern end of the district, and they suggested that each member should represent a geographic area instead of being elected at large.
Some attendees said it's time for residents of the fast-growing North Liberty area to see improvements to their schools.
“The area is moving here. Geographically, this is the hot spot,” said Trevor Andersen, who has two children in the district. “We're paying higher taxes, and I'd expect better service.”
Participants also discussed ways for parents to express their concerns to the district, including contacting state lawmakers and filing an injunction to prevent the school board from voting too quickly to divert the funds.
Board member Tuyet Dorau, who attended the meeting, said she felt it would be wrong for the board to make such a decision without holding public forums on the issue. She said she hopes the board can come to a decision that brings the district together.
“I think our community has become divided, and I think it's the responsibility of the board to unify the district as a whole,” Dorau said. “And I think if we continue as we have been, we will not be doing our job.”
The Gazette's Gregg Hennigan contributed to this report.