ICCSD’s General Obligation Bond Myth

The following rumor about Iowa City Community School District’s proposed upcoming general obligation bond vote is simply false.

Myth:  If voters in the Iowa City Community School District pass a general obligation bond this fall, it will restore and save fourth grade orchestra [which was cut in 2014].

This statement is not true.


Posted in Bond, Bond Myth, Bond vote, Budget, General Obligation Bond, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Guidance from ED about the “Rights of Students with Disabilities” and “Restraint and Seclusion” in Public Schools

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has released the following documents to assist the public in understanding how the Department interprets and enforces federal civil rights laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities and how the use of restraint or seclusion can result in discrimination against students with disabilities….” See the ED Press Release dated December 28, 2016.*

The Dear Colleague Letter: Restraint and Seclusion of Students with Disabilities states the following:

Specifically, students with disabilities served by the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) represented 12% of students enrolled in public schools nationally, but 67% of the students who were subjected to restraint or seclusion in school.

The same Dear Colleague Letter notes in numbers 9 and 10 on pages 13 through 16 that even unintentional discrimination in schools’ use of restraint or seclusion may be illegal. Locally, Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) superintendent stated at the December 2016 District Parent Organization meeting that its “time out” rooms were not used with non-special education students in recent years and that a committee will examine best practices and bring a recommendation to the board. See also the ICCSD board work session minutes here and The Gazette article here.

ICCSD’s board member Chris Liebig has written ICCSD should Dismantle the boxes at his Another Blog about School. The Dear Colleague Letter  notes on page 21 that school districts may be required to provide compensatory services (among other remedies) if a student entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is denied the same because of wrongful restraint or seclusion–so there is potential school district liability, a further reason to eliminate the use of locked seclusion rooms.

The Dear Colleague Letter on page 22 poses the question Where can school districts turn in order to learn how to reduce or eliminate the use of restraint or seclusion in their schools? Notably, the response to this question includes the following, suggesting that an expert in childhood trauma and its treatment should be part of any ICCSD committee examining “time out” rooms.

Students who have experienced trauma in the past may be vulnerable in ways that some of their peers are not, and could therefore be impacted by the use of coercive practices in a much more significant way.

Absent an immediate and emergency threat to the safety of the students or others, school districts should eliminate the practices of restraint and seclusion.


*Thanks to COPAA’s Facebook page  for bringing these documents to my attention.

Posted in ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, isolation box, Restraint and Seclusion, Students with Disabilities, Time Out, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

ICCSD’s Isolation Boxes

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) does many things well; however, the Iowa Department of Education Accreditation Final Report Iowa City School District  (Report), an audit of ICCSD’s provision of special education services, highlighted the need for improvement, including services related to student Behavior Intervention Plans.

With regard to behavior interventions, ICCSD board member, Chris Liebig, has written about ICCSD’s use of isolation boxes here and his post entitled Dismantle the boxes includes links to the articles written by The Gazette (Cedar Rapids’ newspaper). I would encourage readers to read board member Liebig’s blog post and The Gazette articles he links to.

ICCSD’s board’s December 13, 2016 Work Session Agenda  includes a spreadsheet describing and detailing ICCSD’s reported isolation boxes (see here and referenced as “timeout rooms” in this attachment) along with three additional documents on the same topic (including two documents contributed by board member Phil Hemingway from a constituent). For added support for Mr. Liebig’s position, consider the following quotation from the Report that some of ICCSD behavior “treatment procedures” made behavior worse. These findings speak for themselves and deserve immediate further attention and researched-based child-centered solutions. Thanks to board member Liebig for following up on the use of isolation boxes and for bringing them to the board’s attention and to board member Phil Hemingway also.

The team reviewed 50 IEPs that contained behavioral intervention plans. No discernable Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) was found for 29 of these (58%), substandard FBAs for another 7 (14%) and minimally adequate to moderate adequacy for another 14 (28%). Most of the Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) reviewed did contain at least one behavior of concern that related to observable events that were measurable. Most of the BIPs reviewed also contained research – based functions identified (i.e., escape, attention, etc.), however, in several instances the treatment procedures that were associated with the BIP would tend to reinforce the identified problematic behaviors. This disconnect is likely to lead to the increased risk of restrictive procedures. (Emphasis added.) (Report pp. 17-18).
Posted in Accreditation Report, Board, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, isolation box, Special Education, Special Education Accreditation Report, Time out room, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Free and Reduced Lunch Data & ICCSD

Who are these free and reduced lunch (FRL) households? Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) FRL data has been bandied about as board candidates and voters discuss whether to bus students to achieve more socioeconomic balance.

To put FRL data into perspective, a household’s eligibility for FRL is not always synonymous with poverty because some households eligible for FRL have incomes above the federal poverty level. See here.

To see free and reduced lunch guidelines for the 2016-2017 school year, see page 3 at this link and also see here.

2016-2017 free and reduced lunch

FRL Income Eligibility Guidelines for 2016-2017 School Year for 48 Contiguous States

Households can qualify for free lunch  if their household income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. So a family of four could make up to $31,590 annually.

Households can qualify for reduced lunch if their household income does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. So family of four can make up to $44,955 annually and qualify for reduced lunch.

Sometimes all students in a particular school will receive free breakfast and lunch.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) …allows schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students….(See here.)

Homeless “children [are] automatically eligible for free meals or free milk.” (See here on pages 7-8 & 15.)

To put ICCSD’s FRL data into even more perspective, here is a link to the Johnson County Iowa Area Median Income Guidelines. So a family of four with a household income of $44,995 annually (the highest income a four person household could have and still qualify for reduced lunch) would be very near the bottom of the third quartile for the area median income in Johnson County, Iowa. Many local FRL households would be in the bottom quartile of Johnson County’s area median income.

A single parent who went back to school and became a new teacher in ICCSD and had three children with no other household income would have children who would qualify for FRL. Undoubtedly, a lot of FRL families have parents who work part or full time or perhaps are retirees living on a limited income or are disabled.

Schools’ participation in the National School Lunch Program is 1) necessary to help ensure hunger is not a barrier to learning, and 2) brings money into states and their school districts. See here and below.

Reimbursement FRL

2015-2016 “Payments to States and School Food Authorities” under the National School Lunch Program

There are likely many reasons FRL participation rates are increasing nationally, including that 1) schools have done a better job with public outreach and of identifying and getting eligible families to apply,  especially during the recession, 2) the application is more family friendly, and 3) the application is in many languages.

School board candidate, J.P. Claussen, pointed out that ICCSD’s high schools’ average FRL rate [31.2%] was below its average elementary rate [37.7%], and ICCSD’s own enrollment report (page 27) shows this to be so. As families age, incomes sometimes grow so that households may lose their eligibility for FRL over time. Also local demographics are changing, and the University of Iowa’s enrollment is increasing, which may result in more young parents with lower household incomes.

With ICCSD’s FRL rates among schools ranging from <10% to >70%, more balance among  schools would be desirable. To create more flexibility in school assignments, roads and rivers, absent compelling reasons otherwise, should not be used as artificial boundary lines. Additionally, now is the time to discuss whether additional balance could be achieved if junior highs were not strictly aligned to high schools and to take the next step toward enriched programming or magnet schools to drive some school choice. Whether ICCSD utilizes bussing as a strategy or not, ICCSD can do better.


Posted in ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

State Special Education Report of ICCSD Profoundly Disturbing

Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) founded  and repeated failures to comply with special education law is a civil rights issue. The redacted Iowa Department of Education Accreditation Final Report Iowa City School District dated June 13, 2016 (Report) is profoundly disturbing, especially in its description of ICCSD’s noncompliance areas as “systemic” and its findings as “pervasive and substantive” (Report p. 32).

This Report is not an indictment of staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, and concerned Board members, all of whom the Report noted are a strength of the district (Report p. 5). Under its policy governance model, ICCSD’s board can hold one employee accountable–the superintendent. Good governance starts at the top.

Iowa City CSD educational staff are committed to providing the best educational services they can for learners in the Iowa City CSD. District procedures and practices, however, hinder their abilities to provide those services. This was evidenced by interviews as well as a large number of violations. (Report p. 32)

ICCSD board member, Phil Hemingway, was right when he expressed his concern that the district “lawyered up” instead of just complying. The solution is to comply.

A child with a disability often has many barriers to learning,  and the percentage of special education students who qualify for free and reduced lunch is likely higher than ICCSD’s overall percentage of 35.7%. Children with disabilities are a vulnerable population.

Among other requirements, the law  is clear parents are entitled to participate in meetings about and be involved in placement decisions concerning their child with a disability. Further, schools must provide prior written notice to parents before changing that same child’s Individual Education Program (IEP). Failure to comply with the law can result in a child not receiving services he or she is legally entitled to as each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

One of the responsibilities of the implementation advisor will be to ensure that the district understands the substantive nature of the violations (Report p.7).

ICCSD’s recent enrollment report on page 44 shows over one thousand (>1,000) students are enrolled in special  education or about 9.4% of its weighted enrollment. State auditors did not audit each IEP.

The Report shows that the Grant Wood Area Education Association had initially identified 105 IEPs for children where new IEP meetings were required. [T]he Department of Education reviewed an additional random sample of 50 IEPs for compliance.  In those IEPs, 68 additional individual citations were identified (Report p. 7). Not good.

Eleven (11) pages of the Report addressed ICCSD’s special education Finance Status (Report pp. 21-31), including that ICCSD incurred the largest deficit in the state, exceeding those of the next highest district by over $1.2 million each year (Report p. 21) and that additional training is needed to ensure proper account coding (Report p. 30). So there may be financial repercussions that negatively impact ICCSD’s general fund although ICCSD may be able to claim additional reimbursement from Medicaid (Report p. 25).

ICCSD’s corporate culture did not escape rebuke (Report pp. 8-9).

Additionally, numerous interviewees described the district culture as “retaliatory.”  Several people interviewed expressed reluctance to express opinions or make requests that were known to be different than those of district administration.  We encourage the district to reflect on the message and method of communication to staff and effect on the district culture.

ICCSD’s Superintendent Stephen Murley noted this concern in this news report .

Murley said the district also plans to address those issues.

“Part of our concern is where that is coming from,” Murley said. “That may be very localized at a building level so we’ll be looking to see where that’s happening so we can correct that.”

If retaliation is occurring, it could be in contravention of ICCSD’s Superintendent Directions in its School Board Policies, which provide as follows:

The Superintendent shall (LEVEL 3b):
2. Allow any staff member to express an ethical dissent, without consequence. (Board Policy 401.1)
3. Allow staff members to communicate with Board members, either individually or as a Board, with regard to any matter, especially any assertions that board policies have been violated or that those policies do not adequately protect their human rights. (Board Policy 104, 401.1)
4. Inform staff of their rights under this policy. (Board policy 401.1)


Retaliation may also be illegal (see here and #6 here).

ICCSD must comply and audit compliance. Corrective measures must have credibility to be successful. Since these problems arose under the superintendent’s watch, Mr. Murley is not the proper party to further investigate or oversee  corrective action. Independent and transparent oversight is necessary. The state required “implementation advisor” (Report pp. 7-8), should report independently and publicly to the entire board at each future meeting.

Educating all children, including those with disabilities, is equitable and right, and these children deserve no less.

Posted in Board, General Fund, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Murley, Retaliation, Special Education, Special Education Accreditation Report, Superintendent, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Iowa City’s Gateway Project and its Growing Impact on Property Taxes

Iowa City’s Gateway Project cost estimate has escalated astronomically since 2009. The estimate for fiscal year 2011 was $32,940,000 and this year is $59,433,731. A quick glance at the picture below shows that Iowa City will spend far more than it will receive in federal grants to raise Dubuque Street to the 100 year flood level plus one foot and replace the Park Road Bridge with a new bridge built to the 200 year flood level plus 1 foot (see the Council January 21, 2014, minutes here on page 3). Further, there is no guarantee going forward that costs will not continue to increase and adversely impact Iowa City property taxes even more.

Gateway project from FY16-FY18 Fin Plan rev 160309

You can see from the above (found here on page 538) that much of the expense of this project will be the responsibility of those who pay property taxes in Iowa City, since it is these households and businesses who will bear the burden of repaying the $17.875 million in general obligation bonds. And with an Iowa City Community School District bond vote looming on the horizan, there could be a double whammy to the cost of owning property in Iowa City. Even those who rent rather than own their homes may take a hit to their pocketbooks as landlords may pass the cost of the property tax onto their tenants, and many business leases require the tenant, and not the landlord, to pay the property tax.

In addition to the above, $4.5 million of the costs of the Gateway Project will come from the Wastewater Treatment Fund. The money in this fund comes mostly from those who pay user fees. To put this amount into perspective, $4.5 million is about 35.8% of the Wastewater Charges for Fees and Services (revenues) for a year. See  on page 392 (here) under the column “2016 Revised.”

It is safe to state that, but for the federal grants (taxpayer money) and voter approval of a local option sales tax, there would be no Gateway Project. What support was there for the sales tax?–not much. Only 15.14% of Iowa City voters turned out to vote on the 1% local option sales tax on May 5, 2009, which passed with barely 50.05% of the vote (there were 7 more yes votes than no votes) and was to be 100% for remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure and local matching funds for dollars received from any federal or state programs to assist with flood remediation, repair and protection of flood impacted public infrastructure.

To illustrate how the projected costs of the Gateway Project have increased over time, consider previous years’ estimates.

$9,140,000 from the Iowa City July 2009 Capital Improvement Program. You can see below that raising Dubuque Street was not part of the published program (also see here on page 18).

The Gateway Project in its Infancy July 2009

The Gateway Project in its Infancy

$32,940,000 in the FY2011 Budget & FY2011-2013 Financial Plan found here on pages C-4 and C-15 (add totals for Dubuque Street Elevation and Park Road-Third Lane Improvement together).

$33,443,253 in the FY2012 Budget at this at this link on pages C-32-C-33/186/187 and shown below (add totals for Park Road-Third Lane Improvement and Iowa City Gateway Project (Dubuque St.) together.

$35,356,842 in the FY2013 Budget at this link on pages C-13-C14/463-464 (add totals for Park Road 3rd Lane Improvement and Iowa City Gateway Project together).

$40,137,858 in the FY2014 Capital Projects Fund found here on page 476/38 showing $8,680,000 in general obligation bonds (compare this smaller number to the $17,500,000 in general obligation bonds shown today).

Gateway project from FY2014 Capital Projects Fund

$51,308,434 in FY2016 Adopted Budget & FY2015-2017 Financial Plan (found here on page 533).

$59, 433,731 today.

Given the enormous increase in costs to local taxpayers of raising Dubuque Street, it is fair to ask 1) whether a scaled down project, perhaps only replacing the Park Road bridge, makes sense, 2) whether there is a better more reasonable use for the sales tax dollars, and 3) can every homeowner, business, and tenant afford the hit to their pocketbook? Surely, the enormous increase in dollar cost to the community is worthy of a follow up city council discussion, evaluation of alternatives, and vote?  After all, many communities get to vote on school bond issues smaller than the cost of the Gateway Project.


Posted in Bond, Budget, Gateway Project, Iowa City, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

If You Can’t Say Something Nice About Someone….

The Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) recently launched its $107,000 ThoughtExchange program, an online communication tool by which a large number of participants can make their opinions known on various issues affecting ICCSD.1 Through ThoughtExchange, ICCSD asks participants to review and assign stars to the thoughts you value to help us [ICCSD] get a sense of the shared priorities in our schools and community. Participating stakeholders are informed of the following:

Thought Exchange City High 1A 160322

The major problem is that the “thoughts” shown on ThoughtExchange are controlled and censored by ICCSD. Indeed, the district informs participants of the following:

Thought Exchange City High 2 160322

So ICCSD does not show us critical thoughts about district officials and board members. On the other hand, complimentary thoughts about school officials are allowed.
For example, here is an example of an actual thought posted on ThoughtExchange, which illustrates that whomever submitted this thought had a positive view of  ICCSD’s Superintendent Steve Murley and two of ICCSD’s board members.


What are some things you appreciate about our school this year?


Thought Exchange City High 160322
The problem, of course, is that the district is a governmental body and public citizens have a First Amendment right to be critical, and even disparaging and rude, to and about public officials. Further, ICCSD promoted ThoughtExchange as a forum for community engagement so this censorship based upon viewpoint detracts from the robust and open discussion that should occur in a community engagement about schools. Also problematic is that the anonymous submitter of this thought could even have been one of the individuals named. This censorship of speech is an invitation to a lawsuit by a civil liberties group or others who protect First Amendment rights.
The bottom line is that removing a comment, positive or negative, about a public official or matter of public concern from a supposedly public forum is wrong.

So what should the board do about this mess? If it is too late to get our money spent on ThoughtExchange back and to instead  use the funds to better address children’s needs, the board should, at a minimum, adopt a policy and procedure to prevent the administration from curtailing or banning criticism about public officials. At the very least, the board should not allow those who are the likely recipients of criticism to have the authority to remove such criticism from the public view.


 1ICCSD’s board voted on a 4-3 vote to approve a “3 year contract with ThoughtExchange not to exceed $107,000” on November 24, 2015, with board members Brian Kirschling, Chris Lynch, Lori Roetlin, and LaTasha DeLoach voting in favor of it and board members Chris Liebig, Phil Hemingway, and Tom Yates voting against it. This vote came after a discussion where Mr. Liebig had expressed concerns about whether ThoughtExchange had been statistically verified for survey purposes, and Mr. Yates had expressed concerns that ICCSD “can have the filters do pretty much whatever we want them to.” You can view the ICCSD Board November 24, 2015, minutes here.



Posted in Community Comment, First Amendment, Free Speech, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, Murley, Open Meeting, Public Comment, Superintendent, ThoughtExchange | Leave a comment