IOWA CITY — Two years after the Iowa City school board approved a facilities master plan that includes the closure of Hoover Elementary, Tuesday’s school board election could reshape the school’s future.
Five seats — on a board of seven — are up for grabs, and none of the 13 candidates are incumbents. Incumbent board members Patti Fields, Jeff McGinness, Marla Swesey and Orville Townsend chose not to seek new terms, and board member Tuyet Baruah is resigning this month with two years remaining in her term.
Save Hoover, a political action committee created by parents and other Iowa City residents who live near the school, has endorsed four candidates, including the group’s former treasurer, Chris Liebig.
The group’s endorsements also include Phil Hemingway, Brian Richman and Tom Yates. All four candidates support revisiting the decision to close the school, according to the group, while all but one of the other candidates do not. (Candidate Jason Lewis has said he is open to hearing options for Hoover.)
Hoover is scheduled to close no earlier than the 2017-18 school year. If the four anti-closure candidates are elected, they would form a majority on the new school board.
The Hoover decision is an example of “the increasingly top-down nature of public education and how the school system seems increasingly removed from meaningful democratic control,” Liebig said in an email last month.
“I’d like to do what I can to help push back against that trend,” he said.
The district needs voters’ trust to pass a bond vote planned for fall 2017, Richman said in a Gazette candidate forum last month. The bond issue would fund many of the projects outlined in the facilities master plan.
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“I think we need to do that,” Richman said. “But in order to do it, the people who vote for it have to trust that the district is going to make good decisions.”
Paul Roesler, who is running for the same two-year seat on the board as Liebig and Megan Schwalm, has said passing the bond vote is among his priorities if elected. But Roesler said at the forum that he likes the facilities plan.
In a candidate survey, Schwalm said she would not have voted to close Hoover but wanted to move forward with the facilities plan.
“Our Hoover community needs to know that the school will be viable in the coming years and that staff at Hoover will not be penalized by staying at a school slated to close,” she wrote. “In line with my priority of administrative accountability, I believe that Hoover families deserve more and better engagement in the transitions ahead.”
Changing the facilities plan to reverse the Hoover closure would send “a horrible message of indecision on behalf of the (school board),” delay other projects and possibly damage the district’s chances of passing the bond vote, Lucas Van Orden IV, a candidate for one of the four four-year terms open, said in the survey.