116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: Nine candidates are seeking three at-large seats on the Iowa City school board in the Sept. 10 school elections. The Gazette Editorial Board invited them to submit a guest column outlining their background, reasons for wanting to serve on the board, and ideas/priorities for the district. Below are columns by five of the candidates; the other four appeared Saturday.
I'm often asked on the campaign trail: Why should I vote for you? Fair question. Here's a longish answer.
I started in district politics when my family received the SINA letter the summer before my daughter started kindergarten. The letter said the school behind our house, Mark Twain Elementary, was a “School in Need of Assistance.” As such, we could take her out of that school and put her in another in the district that had room. We could even have a bus to take her there.
We decided to send her to Twain. It is our neighborhood school and as parents we'd know if something wasn't right. Guess what? Twain was - and is - a fantastic school, filled with engaged and smart teachers and staff. They've given our daughter an education beyond what we could have hoped.
We got involved with the PTO and soon I became PTO president. I saw it as my mission to spread the word about Twain, and to change people's opinion of this “bad school.” Through my activism for Twain I came to understand my role in public service. I realized all our schools are “Schools in Need of Assistance.” We are the assistance they need. I want to assist on the highest level I can. That's why I'm running for the school board and that's why you should vote for me.
There are always candidates who will tell you what you want to hear. I won't. I'll tell you what I believe to be true: Every student in our district deserves a fair and equitable educational opportunity. That means a safe environment that encourages learning. Every student deserves access to programs that will lift them up on their path to knowledge and lifelong learning. That means vocational programming as well as AP courses. Every student deserves teachers who have our support and deference. Our teachers must be seated at the decision-making table.
And I'm here to tell this: We are not offering fair and equal access to educational opportunities across our district. That has to change.
The Iowa City district's mission statement is a long list of ideas. Among them:
l Each person has intrinsic worth.
l Free exchange of ideas is essential to education and learning in our democratic society.
l The entire community is responsible for education; the individual is ultimately responsible for learning.
There are signs that we are beginning to honor our mission. I recently saw a plan for an addition at Mark Twain elementary, the “poorest” school in our district, that will expand that facility, add air conditioning, and improve the entire building.
A few years ago I stood up at a redistricting meeting to explain to a parent why her kids wouldn't have to “sacrifice to help the poor kids” if they were redistricted to Twain, they would be welcomed and would flourish. Now the district is telling us through action that going to a school like Twain isn't a sacrifice, it's a privilege, something Twain parents have always known.
This is progress. But we need leaders who will ensure that progress continues. We need leaders who will make sure that what we teach our children reflects all of their needs. I will do that.
Education saved my life. It gave me opportunities. We have to make sure that opportunity is available for every child.
In 2014, all of our ICCSD schools will become “Schools in Need of Assistance.” As a member of the board I'll assist them all. I need your vote.
I was born and raised in Johnson County and have lived in the Hoover attendance zone since 2000. My daughter, Monica, who now attends the University of Iowa, attended our neighborhood school, Hoover Elementary, Southeast Junior High and City High School. My wife, Anita, and I have been active members of our PSTOs and we served as administrators of the Band Associates of City High parent group.
I have attended nearly all of the school board meetings over the last four years and am keenly aware of the inner workings of this fine district. I believe my consistent efforts to ask and seek answers to tough questions have helped shape our school board policies. I believe I have helped the taxpayers become more informed on the key issues our district has faced and will face in the future.
It is my firm belief that we all need to take an active role in helping to shape our communities and the best place to start is in our schools. Jackie Kennedy once said, “If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I want every student in the District to have the same wonderful educational experience that my daughter had.
We are in a great situation because, unlike many districts in Iowa, our community continues to grow. We have top notch teachers and both high schools are ranked high statewide and nationally.
We are experiencing growing pains and we need to maintain and modernize existing schools and to build new ones. Because we have limited resources, we must spend our money wisely. Board members will have to oversee a construction budget predicted to be $260 million, plus an annual operating budget of $140 million. The Board must provide oversight and use due diligence to be vigilant stewards of the taxpayers' money.
The board needs to live up to the promises made to the public in the RPS vote in order to ensure public trust. Nowhere in the RPS was closing schools mentioned and in the visioning workshops provided by BLDD, the public overwhelmingly supported scenarios where no schools were closed.
As a board member, I will work to reverse the decisions made by the present board to close Hoover as this does not make financial sense. We need the capacity, and parking and athletic facilities are no reason to eliminate an exemplary elementary.
We also need to redefine success. There is more than one path to a successful life and they do not all flow through a college. We must expand career and technical education.
The community desperately wants to trust our elected officials. We need board members to be skeptical of the administration and to ask tough questions so that the board members are not just rubber-stamps of the administration.
I will do my best to restore trust in the Iowa City school district.
My wife, Mary Murphy, and I live in the Lincoln district. We have children at City High, Northwest Junior High, and Regina Elementary Schools. Therefore, I have no allegiance to any one school or area and I will focus on what is best for the children of the entire district. For more than 25 years I have practiced law here.
I am running for school board because I have for too long witnessed a board that functions in an ineffectual manner, we need to proceed on our district's core needs and begin the long process of restoring the trust of the public, and because I can help us reach these goals.
First, we need to prioritize the construction needs of the district because the district is significantly short of funds to build what the current board has approved. Taxpayers, through the local sales tax, the authorization to issue revenue purpose bonds and other sources, have generously provided approximately $150 million in funds to pay for our construction needs. Unfortunately, the current board has approved a laundry list of construction projects that will cost $260 million and has embarked on a plan to close neighborhood schools even though we have a shortage of facilities to house our students. As a result of its lack of confidence in the board, the public is not receptive to approving a bond issue to provide the additional $100 million that would be necessary to build everything the board wants.
I have no desire to ask for a bond issue, as it is important to show the public that we are capable of prudently spending the funds currently available before we ask for even more tax money. Instead, I prefer to focus on a core group of priority projects that can be completed within our available funds. My priority items will the construction of a new high school, additions/renovations to Mann, Longfellow, and Penn elementary schools, additions/renovations to North Central and Southeast junior highs, and one or two new east side elementary schools. This will satisfy our capacity needs and can be accomplished without a general obligation bond. It makes little sense to close neighborhood elementary schools because by keeping these schools open we avoid the need for still more new schools.
I will work to immediately begin the design and construction of a third high school and the other highest-priority projects. If we do not, the limited funds available will be diverted to other projects and we will not be able to meet our most important needs.
The second reason I am running is to assist in the redistricting process. Because of construction, there will be redistricting throughout the district and most families will to some extent be affected. It is essential that this redistricting process be honest, consistent, transparent, logical, and carefully thought out. I am able to provide a necessary voice of reason to see that this process is handled as best it can.
My third desire is to restore the public's confidence in the board. In talking with people about the election, the universal themes I have heard are disappointment and distrust. The first step in restoring this lost confidence is to demonstrate to the public that we are able to effectively manage the construction and redistricting process in a fair, fiscally responsible, and transparent manner.
There are difficult times before us, but there is also an opportunity to move forward. Let's take advantage. I request your vote so that together we can make our school district better.
The Iowa City Community School District is fortunate to be among the highest-ranking school districts in the state. This is a proud distinction and makes our district among the fastest-growing in the state.
Our high standards and growth pose both opportunities and challenges. This is why school district unity is my top priority as a board member. My decision-making will be guided by what is most equitable and fair for all students in the district. I refuse to pit the needs for new facilities in the north and west parts of the district against the overdue facility needs in the historic parts of the district. I will rely on data to base my decisions, More important, I will be guided by the human impact on the decisions I make, respecting each of our community identities and needs.
Another focus for any board member should always be fiscal accountability. We should hire a second architectural firm do a ready check on any building plans to ensure that there will be minimal change orders or surprises during the construction. We should also advocate using local workers for all of our projects. Hiring local will not only create jobs, but will stimulate economic growth by recirculating tax dollars in our community. We have to hold contractors accountable for their quality of work. This can be done two ways by having a qualified construction manager currently working in the field of public school construction, or by having the contractor guarantee its work for a minimum of five years. I am also interested in feasibility studies on the use of solar and geothermal power in any of these projects to save the district money in the long run.
In order to accomplish unity and accountability, the board needs to be transparent. District work sessions and committee meetings should be recorded (we have the capability) and hosted on the district website. The majority of work sessions and committee meetings, in the past, have been held during normal operating hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Large portions of our district's residents work during these hours. Recording would allow busy parents and other interested parties to view these sessions more conveniently.
School district employees are the backbone for student success. Many have served for decades. They have watched our children grow and have guided them toward adulthood, a tremendous responsibility and noble undertaking. So I support providing both continuing education efforts and opportunities for in-district advancement for all staff.
I know we can do better for our students who might not be destined for college. Bringing back the Home Building Program would give these students exposure to a trade that could provide a livable income. We can partner with our local tradesman, with whom I already have contacts. I believe we can improve our overall educational experience for our AP classes as well by seeking partnering opportunities with the University of Iowa.
I will be one of the most committed and hardest-working board members in the district. I am a former U.S. Marine and working parent, and I've already taken an active role in the district, attending most board meetings over the past three years as well as many of the facilities steering committee meetings. This is the type of commitment I believe the students in the Iowa City district deserve from their board members.
Through our public schools, we have a great opportunity and a great obligation to help all of our children reach their full potential. I'm running for the school board because I believe that every child is important, and our schools must reflect that value.
My work at Big Brothers Big Sisters has given me a valuable perspective on the strength of our students and families. I've sat down with countless families in their homes, and each one has told me about their hopes and dreams for their children. Their future success depends on an education that meets their needs, fosters their love of learning, and inspires them to reach their full potential.
Both my personal and professional life demonstrate my strong commitment to equity and action. My wife Melissa is an Iowa City special education teacher. Our children, Liam and Mae, attend Grant Wood Elementary because we value and gladly contribute to its diversity.
I'm the co-chair of the Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact committee, a group that reviews and works to correct racial imbalance in our juvenile justice, school discipline, and child welfare systems. I'm a Big Sister to a wonderful third-grader. I have served on the PTO, the District Parent Organization, and the Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee. (As a member of that committee, I supported the development of our third comprehensive high school and advocated against closing schools, including Hoover.)
Our public schools are at a crossroads. Over the next four years, we'll be making decisions that shape our community and its resources in significant, lasting ways. To lead us through this process, we need a school board full of compassionate, thoughtful listeners. We need board members who can be informed facilitators of communitywide discussions about our priorities. We need smart, creative, and decisive action that moves us forward. I will work my hardest on behalf of each neighborhood and community.
My goals for the school board are summed up in four themes:
l Equity: All students should have equal access to outstanding learning opportunities. Our schools must be responsive to individual needs and respectful of cultural, economic, social, and racial backgrounds. Facilities are also a critical part of this equity.
l Excellence: Our schools must invest in a range of programming for students of all abilities. We must also support the health and well-being of students and staff through nutrition, physical activity, the arts, and social supports. Our teachers must be given the resources they need to do their jobs.
l Community: Neighborhood schools and community partnerships benefit us all. Decisions need to be evaluated for their impact on community development, especially in more vulnerable areas. We need to be good stewards of our financial resources.
l Vision: I vow to be an engaged listener and learner, seeking opinions and perspectives from people throughout the district. We owe it to our children to move forward and work together.
With your vote for me, we can seize this chance to fulfill the promises made by public education: resources for every student to succeed, and true community investment in our collective future.
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