Formal opposition to the Spencer school board's Nov. 22 decision to move to an elementary grade-alike structure, starting with the 2012-13 year, has been filed with the State Board of Education.
James and Alison Herman, Michael and Shelley Schoning, Leah Zittritsch, Karee Muilenburg, Dustin Blume and Jamie Rusk-Blume, all of Spencer, and Jesse and Serena Rustad, of Everly, filed the appeal, received Thursday in Des Moines.
The parents claim their 12 children are among the students who will be affected by the board's unanimous decision to move from neighborhood schools to the board-approved elementary reconfiguration.
As approved, the grade-alike configuration would have Johnson Elementary hosting sections of Child's Garden, preschool, KinderKids, kindergarten and first grade students. Fairview Elementary would house second and third grade students, and Lincoln Elementary would serve as the locale for fourth and fifth grade Spencer students. Each school building would also host its own special education population.
The appellants claim the board violated procedural guidelines laid out in Iowa Administrative Code, and would like last month's decision overturned.
Their list of 10 allegations against the board include: not providing a timeline for the process of making a decision; no additional notifications other than brief listings in board agenda and meeting minutes; the district newsletter, "The Source," not mentioning a study committee was formed until after its Nov. 22 decision; public meeting times not being published on the district's website; and only general information being sent home with elementary students about the public meetings.
Additional allegations against the board, as outlined in their affidavits, include:
* "All communication directly from the board or the school administration was minimized and in general terms so that many parents were not aware of what was taking place."
* "There was no real research done to the benefits of moving to a grade-alike school system. The committee merely brainstormed and discussed pros and cons from their point-of-view."
* "There is no cost analysis of this change. In the presentation to the community, it was stated that there may be some initial expenses but the district does not anticipate any major expenses with this change."
* "Transportation will be required between schools. There is no analysis of the costs involved or the number of students that would be bused. There is a preliminary plan that uses only current buses, but there is no discussion of the actual usage or costs."
* "Staff assignments between the three buildings have not been determined. Program changes, facility changes, not determined. A committee is being formed to start to plan how this will happen and how it will work to begin in January 2012."
According to Staci Hupp, communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, Administrative Law Judge Carol Greta will set a hearing. The evidentiary hearing, whether it's telephonic or in person, must be limited to only that evidence the local school board considered.
Based on that, Greta will write a proposed decision.
"That decision, by law, has to be in the two parties' hands a minimum of 20 days before the meeting at which the State Board meets to decide whether to make the decision a final decision," Hupp explained. "Their next meeting is Jan. 26."
"The (evidentiary) hearing is going to be, at the earliest, mid to late January, which means the State Board would not see this until their meeting on March 29," she continued. "So, that would be the earliest possible time that the parties will have a final decision."
The yardstick Greta will use to determine the case is called an "abuse of discretion standard," which looks at whether a reasonable person could have found sufficient evidence to come to the same conclusion reached by the school district, Hupp said.
A parallel case that fell under the same abuse of discretion standard was a July 2010 appeal filed by Tanner and Jennifer Carlson against the Prairie Valley Community School District. The Carlsons sought reversal of a March 22, 2010, decision by their local school board to close the Prairie Valley elementary building.
A final decision by Greta and the State Board of Education affirmed the Prairie Valley board's ruling to close its elementary school.
"There is no fraud and no abuse of discretion here," their 2010 ruling stated. "The local school board carefully studied the issue and did not act in an arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational manner. The local board made a decision that it has authority to make, and the board made that decision lawfully."
An earlier case, in which a local board's decision to move third through fifth grade students from one attendance center to another, was Charity Mueggenberg versus the Clay Central-Everly Community School District. In it, an April 2007 grade-realignment decision by the CC-E board was overturned because the board did not follow proper procedures.