Cedar Rapids school board member asks for delay in facilities vote

The audience listens to public comment on the district’s  Facilities Master Plan during a Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education meeting at the Education Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, December 11, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The audience listens to public comment on the district’s Facilities Master Plan during a Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education meeting at the Education Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, December 11, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — At least one Cedar Rapids school board member has misgivings about the timing of a vote on a facilities plan that would close eight elementary schools and rebuild 10 others.

The board has indicated it could vote on the bold facilities plan as early as Jan. 22. The plan formally was presented to the board at its Dec. 11 meeting, during which several parents and residents lobbed criticisms against the plan that would affect schools in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.

During a work session Monday, board member Gary Anhalt said he would like to see more opportunities for the board to hear from the public, especially low-income and non-white families in the district, and asked to delay the vote.

“Thirty percent of our school population is minority and 50 percent is (eligible for) free or reduced lunch. I’m looking around. I don’t think I’m seeing a reflective” population, he said. “So I think — it’s something we’ve scratched our heads with, but we need to find some way to go to them rather than expecting them to come to us.”

The vote still is set to be on Jan. 22’s agenda. Board members said they would consider tabling the facilities vote at that meeting, though board President John Laverty questioned whether more time would bring new voices.

“For me, this is the plan that will get us started,” Laverty said. “Let’s get at least a couple of these buildings underway so the public can see what we’re talking about.”

Board members also discussed whether their votes for or against the facilities plan would be on the “framework” of the plan — the closures of eight and construction of 13 elementary schools, most for an enrollment of 600 students — not on the specific schools that would be affeced.

“As a person who’s going to be voting on this, it’s going to be key to say, am I voting on this plan as written, or is it as a concept that the Cedar Rapids school district will pursue decreasing their (elementary) schools down from 21 to 13 with the goal of 600?” Kristin Janssen said.

Many board members said they think their vote on the facilities plan would be only on the framework of the plan.

But the facilities committee that developed the plan did present the board with lists of schools that would be closed, rebuilt or renovated under its proposal. The committee proposed the district close Madison and Truman elementaries in the northwest quadrant, Garfield and Kenwood in the northeast, Taylor and Van Buren in the southwest, Grant Wood in the southeast and Nixon in Hiawatha.

The sites of Cleveland, Harrison, Hoover and Jackson elementary schools in the northwest quadrant, Arthur, Pierce and Wright in the northeast, Coolidge in the southwest, and Erskine and Johnson in the southeast quadrant would be torn down and rebuilt under the committee’s proposal.

Viola Gibson, Hiawatha and Grant elementaries would be remodeled.

But even if the board adopts the plan, Laverty said, the proposal “is not set in granite” and could be modified by the board as work is completed over the next 15 to 20 years.

Board members agreed to solicit more public input on the plan over coming days.

Contact information for school board members can be found at cr.k12.ia.us/our-district/board-of-education.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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