116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A majority of Iowa City school board members said Tuesday night they want to put planning for a new high school on the back burner and instead focus on elementary school needs.
In a sign of their seriousness, several board members said during a work session they'd be willing to take money that is being reserved for a new comprehensive high school and instead spend it on new elementary buildings and additions.
'I guess my thinking on this is the students are in the elementaries already, and they're overcrowded,' board member Karla Cook.
The high school issue has vexed the growing Iowa City school district the past few years. In 2010, the school board voted to commit the district to building a new comprehensive high school, to join City High and West High, when it had the money and enrollment to support one.
This spring, though, some school board members started questioning whether the need would be there in the near term. Also, there has been intense lobbying from the public and city officials – the district covers several cities – on both sides of the matter.
On Tuesday, schools Superintendent Stephen Murley made a presentation that listed a need for elementary schools in southeast and northeast Iowa City and another in North Liberty or Coralville at a cost of about $15 million each and opening as soon as fall of 2015. A $7.5 million addition to overcrowded Penn Elementary in North Liberty was another proposal.
Board members Cook, Sarah Swisher, Sally Hoelscher and Marla Swesey said the elementary school needs were paramount. They, along with board member Jeff McGinness, said they would favor unallocating the money being saved for a high school.
The school district is setting aside $3.2 million a year from a voter-approved sales tax until it reaches $32 million for a high school. A building is estimated to cost at least $47 million
It will have another $14.9 million in unreserved money from that tax.
No matter what the school board does, the district does not have nearly enough money to address all of its needs, Murley said. The re-authorization of several voter-approved taxes and a bond issue are all possibilities for getting that money.
Most of the board members said they thought a new high school would be needed at some point, but they wanted it put on a long-term plan. Some of the board members said students could be shifted from overcrowded West High to under-capacity City High in the meantime.
McGinness noted that City has about 140 open seats this year but with grandfathering policies from past redistricting decisions ending, that number will be less and moving kids to City could soon send it over capacity.
He mentioned an idea that has been floated around the community of turning Iowa City's Hoover Elementary into a ninth-grade school to resolve capacity issues until a new high school is needed.
With the district having been on the new-high-school track, board member Patti Fields said that however the district moves forward, it needs to be transparent because trust with the public is an issue.
Board member Tuyet Dorau said it's been disappointing how city officials and various groups are looking only at their desires and not taking into account that the district serves multiple cities and its funding goes toward all students.
'I think our community has become more and more fractured,' she said.
Administrators have been looking for elementary and high school sites in recent months, and Murley said he may have parcels on the east side and north side of the district for the board to consider in a closed session Sept. 18.