Hills Elementary to close; concern shifts to property’s future

By TJ Rhodes
Posted 4/4/24


When students leave Hills Elementary School on June 5, it won’t just be for the summer.

The Iowa City Community School District board voted to permanently close Hills …

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Hills Elementary to close; concern shifts to property’s future



When students leave Hills Elementary School on June 5, it won’t just be for the summer.

The Iowa City Community School District board voted to permanently close Hills Elementary at the end of the 2023-24 school year on Tuesday, March 26.

Although the writing seemed on the wall since February, the school board meeting drew a full house, complete with media and security.  District residents overwhelmingly voiced their opposition to the closure during the hour-long public comment period, but knowing their words may hold little sway over the final decision, they also addressed the school building’s afterlife.

“I ask you not to close Hills, but if you feel that you need to close it, then do the decent thing and return the school property. It was given to you so the elementary school would be a part of the district,” Tim Kemp, Mayor of Hills, said. “You came to us and asked us to join; to close the school now would just be another [instance of] the mistreatment and disrespect that you’ve shown our school and our community.”

Immediately following the board’s 7-0 unanimous vote, a resident interrupted the board to again ask their intention with the land. To the chagrin of the disgruntled crowd, the board could not elaborate since the topic was not on the agenda.

However, the administration already stated their intentions in a footnote of the FMP 2.0 Update 2.2 Feb2024 document provided by the district.

“The administration does recommend that the district retain property in Hills to ensure that it is situated to address any future growth in the Hills area of the district. The Administration will come back to the Board later in 2024 with a proposed use for the current property in Hills.”

The footnote can be found on page four of the document, titled footnote 11.

Nothing is set in stone, but it is likely that ICCSD will retain the property.


Why close Hills?

ICCSD must reduce their overall budget by $24.7 million between June 2023 and July 2024 due to declining and flattening enrollment, inadequate state funding, and a lack of ESSER funds, among other issues.

Hills Elementary was the district’s first choice for school closure. In a district of 21 elementary school sites averaging 70% capacity, Hills has the lowest enrollment paired with the highest cost per pupil with estimates next year at 105 students – K-5 – at a cost of $7,022 per student.

Hills’ enrollment is further hindered by the subtraction of sixth grade as the program will move into the middle schools starting this fall.

Board members declared that they needed to act swiftly to solve the problem, thus leading to this vote.

“Nobody wants to fire teachers, increase class sizes, reduce busing or eliminate programming. But these are our only options if the legislature continues to divert our much-needed resources to private schools,” board member Lisa Williams said. “[The legislature] diverted $350 million of taxpayer money to private schools last year. We hear the legislature and Governor talking about eliminating income tax, cutting property tax, reducing special levies, [and] touting it like it’s something great, but when you make these types of tax cuts, and then hoard a billion-dollar surplus, you have to make it up somewhere, and they are doing it on the backs of Iowa public schools.”

Williams then advocated for Hills residents to take on the fight against Iowa legislators.

“I ask that you all start advocating for public education the way that you have advocated to keep your school open, because it is impressive,” Williams said. “You are a force. You all have the power to affect positive change, and I hope that you are willing to do so.”


What next?

Hills students will likely be transferred to Alexander Elementary, located on the south side of Iowa City about seven miles from Hills. Students who need a ride will be provided busing.

This move will significantly save the district money to plan for the future.

Presently, Alexander spends an average of $5,391 per student. When the two student bodies combine, Alexander will see just over 400 students with an estimated cost of $4,764 per student.

The ICCSD board is not done with their budget. They need an additional reduction of $5.5 million in FY25 and $2.5 million in FY26.

The closing of Hills Elementary School may be devastating for the community of Hills. Steady population growth could potentially halt as the lure of a neighborhood elementary school for young families will no longer exist.

However, should ICCSD retain the property, the door remains open for the district to return to Hills in the future.