Davenport Schools Need Forward-Thinking Policies and Plans Print
Commentary/Politics - Letters to the Editor
Tuesday, 25 June 2002 18:00
On June 10, 2002, Administrative Law Judge Susan Anderson of the Iowa Department of Education upheld the April 22 decision of the Davenport Community Schools Board of Directors to close Johnson and Grant elementary schools. Those of us who have supported maintaining Johnson and Grant are disappointed by Judge Anderson’s decision; however, there are several favorable points. While it is very important to acknowledge and accept the decision, we must also make it clear to the board and our community of supporters that we will continue to defend the neighborhood-school concept. Board President Jim Hester stated at the April 22 meeting that these closings were only the tip of the iceberg. Now is the time to be more vigilant and active than ever.

Judge Anderson ruled that the April 22 decision was made within the Barker Guidelines. More important was her ruling that the January 28 decision was not made within the guidelines, and she reversed that decision. This sends a message to the school board that it will be held accountable if it does not provide due process for families of this community. Based on this, it would be responsible for the board to adopt a formal policy and procedure for future school closings. The board had adopted one in 1980. President Hester asked for such a plan in December 2000, and board member Richard Clewell has requested such a plan twice since April 22. It is important that the administration not put this off any longer. A process similar to the 1980 procedure that the board discarded would provide the community an inclusive, orderly method for addressing this contentious issue. The process should start early enough so that a reasonable amount of time can be given to research, study, and public discussion of all the issues surrounding such a significant decision.

The second item that came from this ordeal is the need for the school district to engage the community in a long-range facility plan. Current building planning is done on an as-needed basis with no community input. The assumptions about declining enrollment, and the decisions made based on that, create self-fulfilling prophecies. Roosevelt and Perry schools were closed based on that assumption. Since 1999, enrollment at all elementary schools has declined by 207 students. However, 148 – or 71 percent – of that decline has occurred at Hayes and Buffalo, the two schools that accepted the students from Roosevelt and Perry, respectively. That equals 74 students each at those two schools. The average enrollment decline for the remaining schools over the same time period has been three students each. A student at Hayes or Buffalo is 25 times more likely to have left the district than a student at any other school. This should prove to all the skeptics that closing neighborhood schools drives families away and harms the district financially. Overall, the district lost more than $1.2 million in state revenue from the enrollment declines at Hayes and Buffalo since 1999. A similar phenomenon is happening at those schools that are scheduled to receive students from Grant and Johnson. The savings that the district predicted will be significantly reduced by the loss of enrollment and subsequent reduction in state aid.

A planning process that involves stakeholders will lead to a building plan that is acceptable to most people in the community. If school buildings must be closed, any process that creates buy-in will reduce the losses in enrollment caused by a lack of trust and those feeling disenfranchised. We believe, however, that such a process will actually lead to increases in enrollment. Visionary planning will lead to new school buildings being built that address demographic trends and provide the positive elements of neighborhood schools. Then we can highlight the partnerships and community involvement in a comprehensive marketing plan that shows why the Davenport Community School District is a true district of choice. The bottom line is that if we continue to plan for declining enrollment and close neighborhood schools, we will indeed have shuttered buildings and declining enrollment. If we plan with vision and create dynamic partnerships with parents, businesses, and local governments, we can grow. Increasing enrollment is the only permanent solution to long-term financial stability for the district.

To the 3,300 people who signed our petition to keep the schools open and to the hundreds of people who phoned and wrote letters of support throughout this odyssey, I call on you to stay with us and stay strong. We have not given up. It is clear that change will have to occur from the other side of the podium, from the side of the table where the board sits. Your voice will be heard, but you will have to speak at the ballot box. Stay united and help us this September 10 begin to bring a new voice, a new attitude, and a new way of doing business to the Davenport Community School District.

Alan Guard
Candidate for the Davenport
Community School District Board
Davenport

Reader Questions Reviewer’s Credentials


I have just read Zach Carstensen’s review of the Chamber Music Quad Cities concerts at Wallenberg Hall on June 8 and ll. (See “Chamber Music Festival Soars with Several Pieces,” River Cities’ Reader Issue 379, June 19, 2002.) While I take no umbrage with a person who states he does not like a particular piece or the interpretation of a particular piece, I was left wondering about the credentials of Mr. Carstensen. He deemed the performances generally acceptable, suggested that the F Minor String Quartet Op.95 was a jumbled mess, and suggested that the violins of Mark Steinberg and Serena Canin were not in tune.

Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Canin are the two violins from the Brentano String Quartet, who play concert after concert together all year long. I suggest you type the following into your search engine, Mr. Carstensen – Brentano Quartet, reviews – and read the 10 pages of material available from other newspapers and music organizations regarding the level at which these people play. Take note that the Brentano is playing at Carnegie Hall in the 2002-2003 season. Perhaps you could show up to help them “tune up” for that performance!

Were there not a hometown connection, the Quad City audience would not be privileged to hear performances of this quality. I know that reviews that only praise are boring reading, but this was a great evening of music. I believe your negativity was for effect only, and thus question your credentials as well as your commitment to bringing good classical music to our area.

Ruth Wirtz
Davenport