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Iowa City School Board Indicates Support for Closing School
By Gregg Hennigan and Mark Carlson, Reporters
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A majority of Iowa City school board members indicated Tuesday night they support closing Hoover Elementary School.
The possibility of closing Hoover, and other schools, has already drawn protests from some parents. Hills and Lincoln also were on the chopping block but appear to have been spared.
The board discussed the issue during a three-hour-plus work session to hash out a long-term facilities plan that is to guide construction decisions for the next decade. Nothing was officially decided Tuesday night, with a vote expected at an upcoming meeting.
The board received two recommendations from a committee that has studied the issue since the spring.
One called for using Hoover Elementary while new schools are under construction and then closing it to allow neighboring City High to expand. The Theodore Roosevelt Education Center, which is used for non-traditional courses, also would have been a so-called swing school and then closed.
The other recommendation would have used Hoover in the same way and also have closed Hills and Lincoln elementary schools.
Both proposals call for three new elementary schools a new 1,500-student high school.
What to do with Hoover was the toughest decision for the board Tuesday night.
"I haven't seen data that compels me to believe that we have to close any of our schools," board member Sarah Swisher said.
She was the only board member to speak so strongly against closing Hoover, although Tuyet Dorau said she wanted more information on the cost to keep Hoover versus closing it.
The district can afford to operate new schools without closing others, but something on the expenditure side would have to give, said Craig Hansel, the district's chief financial officer. There are various possibilities, he said, but the two mentioned the most were lower pay raises for teachers and other staff and higher class sizes.
"There's trade-offs, and let me just leave it at that," he said during an extended discussion on the issue.
During public meetings in recent weeks, there was public support for closing Hoover to allow City High to grow. But there also was significant input calling for all schools to stay open.
Board member Jeff McGinness said there are a few nearby elementary schools to serve Hoover families, so they would still attend a neighborhood school. Only about a dozen students who currently attend Hoover are not within walking distance of another elementary school, said David Dude, the district's chief operating officer.
Lincoln Elementary received little discussion Tuesday night.
On Hills Elementary, instead of choosing between the committee's recommendations of either closing it or building a new school at the site, the board said it supported spending about $3.8 million to renovate the existing building.
McGinness questioned that move, noting the school's small enrollment and saying he thought the board voted this month to purchase land in southeast Iowa City in part to replace Hills.
But other board members noted the school is the only one in town and worth keeping. Board President Marla Swesey said she thought a commitment to the school would encourage young families to move to town.
"I think we'll see a difference in that community," she said.
If the community continues to grow, the board in the future may discuss building a new school.
The board also said they would keep using the old Roosevelt Elementary building, now the Theodore Roosevelt Education Center, for the home-school assistance program and off-site programs that address individual needs of students and try to get the students reintegrated into their regular schools.
The facilities committee at the last second threw in the possibly of using the building as a temporary home for elementary school students while new schools are constructed and then closing it, but school board members said that idea had not been vetted by the community.