Future of Hills Elementary, students discussed at legislative briefing

By TJ Rhodes
Posted 4/19/24


Rep. Heather Hora and Sen. Dawn Driscoll held their last legislative briefing of the season on Friday, April 12, at the Kalona Historical Village, where they described myriad bills they …

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Future of Hills Elementary, students discussed at legislative briefing



Rep. Heather Hora and Sen. Dawn Driscoll held their last legislative briefing of the season on Friday, April 12, at the Kalona Historical Village, where they described myriad bills they finished and many more they have in the works before fielding questions from everyone in the audience, some praising, others chastising the politicians.


Hills Elementary

Although not the focus of the legislative briefing, Hills Elementary was brought up a few times by constituents. Hora wanted to fully explain their intention with the City of Hills as well as related legislation.

“Dawn and I were in touch with Lone Tree school, and they had shown interest in bringing Hills into the Lone Tree school district, and I had a conversation about what that would look like, so we wanted to bring it to Hills,” Hora stated at the April 5 special council meeting in Hills, where the idea was first introduced.

This idea was seen as an effort to “revitalize rural Iowa,” keeping K-6 schools in small towns such as Hills.

“Lone Tree reached out and said, ‘Is there a way we can take Hills under our wing and put them in our district?’  Since then, Highland has been in the conversation, Mid-Prairie has been in the conversation,” Hora said at the legislative briefing.  “From that, it’s kind of grown into, maybe we can create something where we have individual schools, like Hills, and give them their own district and give them an elementary school.”

“It’s kind of like what our fellowships, did but in a public way,” Hora added. “Instead of forcing [Hills] to be a charter school or forcing it to be a private school, allow these towns to have an independent elementary school that they’ll have an operational share with the district, but those kids can go anywhere [after elementary].”

Despite mentioning three different school districts are interested in acquiring the Hills students, the legislators have not been in contact with the City of Hills since their initial meeting on April 5.

“We have not heard from them since the Friday [April 5] meeting,” Hills Mayor Tim Kemp said the morning of April 16.

Hora claimed, “I had many parents from Hills, many businesses in Hills, reach out to us and say, ‘What can we do?’ Their goal was to save the elementary school.”

But Kemp countered that most within the community, especially business owners, want Hills to remain with ICCSD, noting he and the council are uncomfortable with the speed of the proposed legislative change.

Of course, parents still have the ability to open-enroll their children out of ICCSD if they choose, as seen at Hills’ most recent city council meeting on Monday, April 8.

“I just want to say thank you for exploring options with the nearby school districts as well, because some of us have already taken the opportunity to open-enroll our students out of Iowa City,” Bridget Dutka of Hills said.

Dutka was an outlier. Most residents did not support leaving ICCSD during said meeting.

“My granddaughter left the Washington School District to open-enroll to West High because of all it has to offer,” Bonnie Anderson of Hills said. “I’m hurt, upset, but we need to slow things down and think long-range for the kids.”

Other town residents pleaded with the council to slow down the process entirely.

“The only urgency was for the legislature to get legislation passed before they adjourned for the year,” Mark Stutzman of Hills later said. “Without new legislation, I can tell you we have no options [with] the way it looks today. So, there’s no imminent decision that needs to be made.”

Hills Councilor Emily Hudachek concluded the conversation at the council’s meeting by asking the council to slow down, also stating,“Realistically, whatever school district -- Iowa City, Lone Tree, Highland -- we’re not going to have an elementary school. I realistically don’t see that happening.

Neither Hora nor Driscoll attended this meeting.

Initially, it seemed the legislators wanted to save Hills Elementary. But in order for Hills to leave ICCSD, they’d face numerous hurdles.

First, both the new school district and ICCSD’s school boards would need to come to agreement or both communities would need to vote in approval.

If they did leave, there is no guarantee they’d receive the Hills Elementary property that ICCSD owns, even with new legislation allowing Hills to decide on their own.

ICCSD stated, “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,” in their FMP 2.0 Update 2.2 Feb2024 document, available on the district’s website.

This means Hills’ new district would likely need to build a new school on new property to appease the legislators’ goal of having a K-6 school located in Hills. Although not impossible, this seems unlikely based on the three suitors bidding for the town’s students.

When asked, Hora stated reclaiming Hills Elementary from ICCSD is still part of the conversation.


Other topics covered:

Hills Elementary was only a brief portion of the conversation had at the legislators visit at the Kalona Historical Village.

The legislators also fielded questions in regard to AEAs; the “fetal heartbeat” bill which both legislators approval of; water and air quality; a corporate-sponsored bill giving Bayer immunity from being sued over allegations that their product, Roundup, causes cancer, a bill both legislators support; teachers with guns – this bill gives schools the ability to arm staff if they meet certain requirements, something both legislators support; snowmobile licensure; the “fake meat” bill; the economy; Driscoll’s school start date bill which died, meaning schools can start no sooner than Aug. 23 – this year, the 23rd falls on a Friday. Many local school districts wanted Driscoll’s bill to pass so that they could start school a couple days sooner, although economists argue it would stymie the state’s economy due to the Iowa State Fair, the importance of tourism and much more.

This meeting concluded each legislator’s briefing tour through their district this spring.

Both Hora and Driscoll have announced intent to run for re-election this November.