Impact of Decisions Should be Considered

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Opinion," October 12, 1998, p. 11A

One of the most rewarding aspects of the recent School Board campaign is the way the community came together:  young and old, rich and poor, professionals and blue collar workers, liberals and conservatives, teachers and administrators, parents with school children and taxpayers without.

What a difference it would make if that spirit could continue!

Something that might help is an idea I talked about during the campaign: the "educational impact statement."  It's like an "environmental impact statement."  It means that before the School Board takes significant action it has to evaluate the impact of its decision.  Of course, the impact on the quality of students' education our first obligation.  But more than that.

The Board should consider the impact on parents, teachers, administrators, the business community, social service agencies, other local governing bodies, the university, taxpayers, and the community generally.

What kinds of impact?  Budgetary, yes.  But also impact on others' programs, workload, long-range plans, and administrative hassle.

Putting these factors on the table does not mean that any one of them is decisive.  It does mean they can't be ignored.  They must be weighed as a part of the decision-making process:

Of course, this kind of consideration, and community-wide participation, need to go both ways.

Sheriff Carpenter has put the community on notice that he will soon need a $10 to $15 million-dollar expansion of the local jail.  Without expressing a view on the merits, what kind of two-way questions does that raise?

Development.  Every family that moves into the District with school-age children directly impacts the schools:  class size, budget, busing, school boundaries -- and ultimately the need for multi-million-dollar new school buildings.

That concern has entered the current debate regarding the proposal for a very substantial mobile home park.  It's not a reason to oppose, or promote, more mobile homes.  It is a reason to put District representatives at the table when the decision is made.

The additional examples are endless.  The University intersects with the District in a number of ways.

The public library is an educational resource for K-12 students.

We would all benefit from more coordinated planning for locations of of city parks and schools.

The police department can encourage positive student behavior as well as restrain the worst.

Schedules and routes for the city's bus systems affect kids as much as those for "school buses."

As it happens, our extended community is already doing much of this.  There is a nameless, informal governmental body made up of the city councils of Coralville, Iowa City and North Liberty, the County Supervisors, and School Board.  But it is coming to realize, as a concession to the shortness of life, that all the information it needs to share cannot possibly be talked through in monthly meetings.

My proposal is "bigger fishnet, fewer fish."  That is, a "management information system."  Our combined governmental bodies need an early warning system with the potential to survey more information and present less.  We only need to know what's truly significant and timely.  Keep the northerns, throw back the carp.

Present the information graphically, so its significance can be quickly grasped.  And don't talk about it.  Present it on the Internet (for any interested citizen to see) or in hard copy.

Of course, the need for community-wide decision-making is not limited to government officials.  It includes most of our social service agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations. It darn sure includes the local television stations and cable system.

Nick Johnson is an Iowa City School Board member.