In 2014, voters approved doubling the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s 10-year Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, resulting in $9 million per year to be used for the maintenance and upkeep of the district’s buildings and grounds.
Progress has been made, but school district leaders are now proposing a dramatic turn: to construct as many as 13 new elementary schools, at a potential cost of up to $260 million.
Little has been revealed about funding sources for this huge leap, but potentially could come from those voter-approved levy funds not yet used, through the local option sales tax known as Secure an Advanced Vision for Education and/or a bond referendum.
While we admire the district taking a proactive approach in addressing the future needs of our students, we believe voters are not being shown the entire picture.
During the district’s public input sessions, three “options” were presented, but truly, only one choice was given: to build 13 new schools, with the sole difference being the size of the new structures. Consultants hired by the school district can now say the public overwhelmingly supports constructing 13 new schools.
While the fiscal ramification of such a huge undertaking is worth further discussion, we believe there is more at stake in consolidating our neighborhood elementary schools into new mega-schools.
Many of our current elementary schools are in core neighborhoods where affordable housing exists. Taking away those schools is detrimental to the cohesion of the neighborhood, will lead to further deterioration in those neighborhoods and pushes development outside of the core, burdening our city with the need for new infrastructure at greater taxpayer expense.
Shopping malls built decades ago have given way to shopping centers with housing and other amenities within walking distance, as evidenced by plans for the former Westdale Mall and projects across the country. An analogy can be made to our local schools.
Building larger mega-schools, where young students would have to be bused, ignores the realities of our desire for more livable, walkable communities. The city of Cedar Rapids, and our schools, have been moving in that direction for years with the healthy-lifestyle Blue Zones Project and the construction of connected sidewalks, so it’s surprising the school district is now taking the opposite tack.
An argument also has been made that new technology requires new spaces and the majority of our district’s 31 schools are more than 50 years old; with two, Garfield and Arthur, in service for more than 100 years.
We challenge that argument, as tablets and other technology can be used virtually anywhere, and additionally, point to the district’s magnet schools as evidence that educators and their approach to teaching is what makes a school successful, not the space.
Finally, our district’s older structures were built to last. New schools will require maintenance sooner than older schools constructed of solid stone and materials that can continue to serve for generations.
Consolidation may be required in some instances, but a blanket approach to “ridding” our district of schools based solely on their age — for what some residents might perceive as a vanity project — is fiscally irresponsible. Instead, reconfiguring our current schools is the more sound approach, and one that will benefit our entire community for years to come.
The Board of Education will make a decision about the school facilities plan in coming months, with “adopt facilities master plan” on the agenda for October.
Those elected officials need to know where our residents stand.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 17 at the Educational Leadership & Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW. Members of the public who wish to speak must sign in before the meeting, and have a 5-minute limit in which to address the board.
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• Cindy Hadish is a board member of Save CR Heritage, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness of the value of historic properties in strengthening our community, conserving resources, fostering economic development and enriching lives. Comments: SaveCRHeritage@gmail.com, www.SaveCRHeritage.org