It is my pleasure to support public education, our students, staff and our community by putting forth a general obligation bond that will fully fund the Iowa City school district Facilities Master Plan. The plan is transforming our learning environment and improving all of our schools over 10 years by delivering a 21st Century learning environment.
The Facilities Master Plan is the community’s plan, developed in 2013 with more than 1,000 people participating in the process. Since that time, it has been our plan to fully fund the remainder of the FMP with a general obligation bond in September 2017.
During our annual FMP renewal, we once again completed extensive community engagement. Nearly 1,700 people participated using the district’s Thought Exchange digital engagement tool. Others participated in listening posts and one-to-one conversations. I want to share the key themes that emerged.
HVAC, HVAC, HVAC: By a significant margin, the primary input was to complete heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements in our schools. The good news here is that we have made historic progress over the past four years and are in a position to complete HVAC in elementary schools by 2019, in junior high schools by 2020 and in our high schools by 2021. We need the GO bond to finish this critically important work.
Keep it Simple: In January, I proposed a viable approach to reducing the GO bond by about half. I felt like this was a debate we needed to have before issuing our bond proposal. Any reduced plan gets complicated since it could mean multiple bonds would be needed to complete the work. It could require the extension of SAVE (the penny tax), and of course we need to pick which projects would be included in a reduced bond and which projects to exclude from the bond. In January’s listening posts and face-to-face conversations, people were clear in their feedback to the district: a reduced bond is complicated and there is significant fear that the projects that are not included in a reduced bond may not be completed. By the end of January, I agreed: Let’s keep it simple.
Stick to the Plan: Since 2013 it has been the plan to fully fund the remainder of the Facilities Master Plan with a GO bond in September 2017. The FMP has been prioritized by the educational adequacy of our schools. We had to level the pace of improvement to match cash flow and our organizational capacity for this historic level of improvement. The plan also balanced investments and improvements across our district so everyone saw improvement. We have seen tremendous improvements in the learning environments where we have completed FMP projects. By the end of January, I agreed: Stick to the plan.
One thing I learned in this process is that many people in the community are far too linear on thinking about the capacities of our schools. A school’s capacity is not a static number based only on the physical building. Capacity management is dynamic and needs also to take into account policy (example: policy on class sizes) and programming (example: adding Special Education or English Language Learner programming can reduce rooms for general education). These all change over time and the impacts on capacity need to be evaluated on a regular basis.
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Let’s be frank. public education is under attack. It’s being assaulted at both the state and federal levels. You, the public, have precious few opportunities to directly vote to support public education. Voters in the Iowa City school district will have this opportunity this September. I plan to vote to support public education, to support our students, to support our staff and to support our community.
• Chris Lynch is a member of the Iowa City Community School Board. This column represents his opinions and not necessarily those of the board.