Cedar Rapids school board will decide facilities strategy amid falling enrollment

One incumbent unopposed as two others draw challengers

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CEDAR RAPIDS — As the second-largest school district in the state considers an overhaul of its facilities and copes with falling enrollment, three incumbent school board members are vying to retain their seats.

Incumbent Keith Westercamp, 70, is being challenged by Jennifer Borcherding, 44, while candidates Theodore Collins, 18, and Christopher Gehrke, 37, are running for the seat held by incumbent Gary Anhalt, 70. Incumbent Nancy Humbles is unopposed,

Members who are elected will join incumbents Mary Meisterling, Rafael Jacobo, Kristin Janssen and John Laverty on the board. School board members serve without pay.

Humbles and Anhalt both were first elected to the board in 2009, while Westercamp has served on the board since 1997.

During their shared tenures, the district has experienced an increase of about 400 resident students opting to enroll out of the district, overall stagnant enrollment, the implementation of a robust magnet school strategy, the ousting of longtime Washington High Principal Ralph Plagman and the hiring of former state education director Brad Buck as superintendent.

They’ve also overseen school closures — an issue that again could be on an agenda as the facilities planning committee moves toward a scheduled recommendation in October, a month after the Sept. 12 election.

Although nothing has been finalized, every version of the committee’s preliminary findings has recommended the closure of eight of the district’s 21 elementary schools. The committee also has discussed the rebuilding of many of the remaining elementaries.

“People tend not to care until it’s ‘my school,’” Anhalt said, noting he was the only board member who voted against closing Polk Elementary in 2012 and would emphasize public engagement before a facilities decision is made.

Every candidate running for a contested seat agreed the board should weigh public opinion before slating any schools for closure.

Westercamp, Borcherding and Gehrke said it would be premature to take a position on the direction of the committee’s facilities plan.

“The board isn’t saying anything about the facilities plan until we have the final report,” Westercamp said.

Anhalt, too, declined to say whether he supports the idea of closing multiple elementary schools, but said he would not vote in favor of a plan unless an adequate funding source were available.

Collins, who graduated from Kennedy High School in May, said he would support a plan involving multiple closures if it maintained neighborhood schools.

All the candidates indicated Buck, who was hired as superintendent two years ago, is moving the district in a positive direction.

“He has long-term visioning in place,” Borcherding said. “Positive culture, from the top-down, sets the tone in the district.”

CEDAR RAPIDS SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES

District 2

Incumbent Nancy Humbles, 66, retired director of the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment

District 3

Incumbent Keith Westercamp, 70, commercial real estate appraiser and Realtor

Jennifer Borcherding, 44, substitute teacher

At-large

Incumbent Gary Anhalt, 70, retired educator

Theodore Collins, 18, Kirkwood Community College student

Christopher Gehrke, 37, engineer

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

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