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Something old, something new for ICCSD board consideration

Boundary scenarios still under discussion; new resource allocation model to be reviewed

IOWA CITY– It was boundary scenarios, take four.
Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) board members and administration met again to discuss possible high school and junior high boundaries at the Tuesday, April 14, school board meeting.
This time Superintendent Stephen Murley presented two new scenarios. The first was 4B, which used geographic features such as major roads, railways, and other natural break points to create boundaries. Scenario 4B also worked to balance the distribution of low socio-economic status (SES) students, special needs students, and English Language Learners (ELL) and avoided school boundaries within a half-mile of elementary schools. However, it would also most likely require rezoning of elementary schools and create a greater possibility of elementary schools being split, with half the students going to one junior high and half going to another.
“Parents don’t want to see a split elementary,” said ICCSD Chief Operating Officer David Dude.
Murley also presented scenario 4F, in which Van Allen Elementary students would go to North Central Junior High and feed into the new Liberty High School, while Coralville Central students would go to North West Junior High and Iowa City West.
At last month’s work session, many North Liberty community members objected to the previous scenario, represented in 3F, which sent Van Allen students to North West Junior High and West High. Scenario 4F was created following that outcry.
A challenge that concerned board members and citizens regarding these similar scenarios was making an “island” of Kirkwood Elementary. Kirkwood Elementary students would attend North Central Junior High, instead of North West, which is geographically closer.
“I have a difficult time with kids who are basically right next to a school not going to that school,” Director Tuyet Baruah said.
Kirkwood Elementary has one of the highest percentages of students who receive free and reduced lunch. Many expressed worry that this would present an additional hardship to an already disadvantaged population.
For example, North Liberty is currently only served by a single public bus route from Coralville and Iowa City twice each day. Residents said it would be a challenge for some parents to get to North Central and Liberty High from Coralville because of this lack of public transportation.
Administration also presented estimated busing costs for both scenarios.
Both 4B and 4F would reduce busing costs, with 4B costing roughly $680,000 and 4F costing $700,000. Currently, the district spends $920,000 on busing.
“You now have a whole other region of students who don’t need busing because there’s a school in that area,” Dude said.
In the last work session, the board discussed the major influences in creating attendance zones; last Tuesday, they narrowed it down to student achievement and balance of FRL data, ELL students and other demographic characteristics, with other factors including a preference for neighborhood schools and potential operational costs.
Administration will continue to work on possible boundary scenarios, with the expectation that the board will make a decision by the end of May.
The administration also presented a new resource allocation model, which would help schools better determine how much staffing they need for particular positions.
The model uses a system to weigh variables according to the duties of a particular position. Those variables include school population, achievement data and student demographics, such as special education levels, ELL, FRL information, and students who are considered at risk.
Dude used the example of building secretaries to illustrate the model.
A secretary position in a school with a high special education population might be weighted more than at a school with a lower special education population because of the extra responsibilities associated with those students. The model takes that into account to help determine the best investment of time and money for staffing.
“You look at what their role is and what they deal with and what takes their time in that role and adjust the weighting factors accordingly,” Dude added.
The administration would be able to enter into the model how many hours per day are available for funding within each role, and divide it between the schools based on need. The result would show the district which locations might need to cut hours or where hours need to be added.
Dude stressed that the model has only been tried using sample data, and therefore was not 100 percent accurate. If the district chooses to move forward using the resource allocation model, the administration would use actual district data.
Baruah asked how this would affect students who were assigned special funding.
Murley said the model only included resources from the general fund and left out special funding the district receives for categories like special education. If a student is assigned a paraprofessional with funding outside of the general fund, that paraprofessional would not be included in the model.
The more restrictions placed on the model, Murley said, the less flexibility there would be for allocations.
Board members praised Dude and the administration for what they felt was a game-changing method of resource allocation.
According to Chief Financial Officer, Craig Hansel, no other district in Iowa has anything similar to this model. Murley said that even outside the state of Iowa, no district was doing it as in-depth as ICCSD hoped to do.
“So, we’re potentially blazing new trails,” Director Brian Kirschling said.
Next year, the district will test the model using weightings in three categories– clerical staff, paraprofessional staff and school administration managers/behavior interventionists– and then return to the board for approval before applying the model to teachers and administration.
By limiting the trial run to those categories, Murley said, there would be less impact if the district made any errors with the model.
“This gives us a year to really test out those weightings and make sure they’re working before we actually start applying it to classroom teachers and administration,” Murley said.
But some board members were interested in making further changes to better serve the district.
Baruah hoped to see more achievement and proficiency data included in the model in order to identify schools that are struggling. She also wanted FRL and at-risk students weighted higher.
“We focus so much on this achievement gap in those populations, we really need to consider how we’re going to do that weighting,” she said. “What is going to get us to the point where we’re over this hurdle and we are making progress?”
Dude said the weightings could be adjusted to show the optimal staffing number for each category.
Overall, the board and administration were optimistic that the new system would help the district move resources to areas that need it most.
“It won’t be perfect, but it will provide more objectivity than we’ve had to date,” Hansel said.