Iowa City School Board Fighting Over Meeting on Diversity Policy

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The scheduling of a special Iowa City school board meeting Saturday morning to discuss a controversial diversity plan is drawing intense criticism from some board members.

In an email Tuesday morning that included a several recipients, including news media outlets, board member Jeff McGinness said a meeting had been scheduled for 10 a.m. and limited to two hours.

McGinness said he and two other board members were not contacted about their availability. He said he would not be there because he has a conflict.

Board members Tuyet Dorau and Patti Fields in the same email chain said they also would not attend.

Fields works for the United Way of Johnson County and said she has work obligations at a book festival Saturday. She noted that a lot of parents and their kids are expected to attend the festival.

“This whole process is not embracing transparency, good governance or communication,” Fields wrote. “How can anyone think that the community will trust the board, when this lacks of all transparency?”

Dorau said she too has a conflict Saturday.

“The speed at which you are rushing this policy along leads others and myself to question your motives,” she wrote in an email directed at board members Karla Cook, Sarah Swisher and President Marla Swesey.

Swesey did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. In an email to board members, she said she wanted a special meeting so the public could comment on and ask questions about the policy.

"It is evident from all the emails that there are a lot of misconceptions out there that we could address," she wrote.

Of the seven board members, McGinness, Dorau and Fields have probably asked the most questions regarding the diversity policy.

The policy would require schools to be within a certain range of each other in terms of the percentage of their students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty.

Many educators say schools with high concentrations of poor students face more challenges and those students do less well in the classroom.

There’s a large disparity between Iowa City school district elementary schools, and South East Junior High and City High, both in Iowa City, fall outside the ranges set in the proposed policy.

The board’s Governance Committee on Monday discussed the timing of the votes on the policy. Swesey and Swisher argued for the final vote to occur as soon as possible and in advance of a Feb. 5 special election. The district is asking voters to approve a new revenue purpose statement that could make up to $100 million available to the district to fund building projects.

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