CEDAR RAPIDS — Supporters of Polk Elementary knew their school’s fate seconds before the last Cedar Rapids school board member voted in favor of closing it, but the news was still a shock.
“They’re closing our school?” one child asked his mom.
The large group of Polk supporters left last night’s board meeting seconds after the proposal was approved. Muttering “No” and “Shame on you,” parents, students and staff members went out to the hallway to comfort each other.
“As you can see, we’re all stunned because I think we presented some worthwhile arguments” to the board, said Sue Nading, the mother of one Polk student.
Gary Anhalt was the only board member to vote against closing the school.
“The public is tired of all the governing bodies not listening to us,” Polk parent Jennifer Hill told the board.
Calling the school’s fate a public issue, Hill said the public has spoken. Nearly 1,800 signatures were collected showing support for the year-round elementary school. On Monday, parents, grandparents, community leaders and former students stood before the board to make their final pleas.
“It makes no sense, either common sense or fiscally, to close Polk, where so much is being gained,” Hill said.
The school board adjourned for 10 minutes after the vote to close Polk. At that time, four recommendations had been presented and approved, including a unanimous vote to close the Monroe Early Childhood Center. When the meeting reconvened, most of the members of the audience had left, with those most affected by the decision not around to hear board members ask for a positive transition process to benefit all Cedar Rapids students.
“We have been told from the beginning of this process that districtwide changes and school building closings will never make everyone happy,” member Allen Witt said.
Citing one of a recent enrollment study’s main goals — ensuring equity and access to programs and services — Witt said the district is not abandoning anyone.
“Our proposal will make needed educational services more available to those most in need,” he said.
Ann Rosenthal said she and other board members spent a lot of time studying the issue and talking with the public about it.
“We really, really value the impact of the community, even if the vote didn’t go the way you wanted it,” she said.
Rosenthal asked that those who spoke in favor of Polk now work with the board and the district as it moves forward.
“We need to make this a positive transition,” Mary Meisterling, the school board’s vice president, added.
Rosenthal also suggested that the district reconsider Harrison Elementary School’s future.
Harrison had been one of four Cedar Rapids elementary schools on the list for possible school closure, but it didn’t make Superintendent Dave Benson’s list of recommendations. At the time, Benson said leaving Harrison open was an effort to support the city’s flood recovery.
But now that voters for the second time have turned down a proposed sales tax extension to fund a flood protection system, several board members said the school needs to be reassessed in the next year, not the next five years as originally discussed.
“All of us only want what’s best for the community,” President John Laverty said. “Despite what anyone said tonight, the board members spent countless hours on these issues.”
Polk’s boundary will be divided into the attendance areas of Arthur, Garfield, and Johnson elementary schools, but current Polk students may use the permit process to enroll at any elementary east of both Interstate 380 and the Cedar River. That includes Arthur, Erskine, Garfield, Grant Wood, Johnson, Kenwood, Nixon, and Wright elementary schools.
Current Polk students also may permit to Taylor Elementary School, with transportation provided, to continue with the modified-year school calendar Polk has used.
The closing of the Monroe Early Childhood Center means those students will be assigned to their resident elementary schools: Erskine, Grant Wood and Johnson.Families of students affected by a boundary change or school closure will receive detailed information by mail. The letters will be mailed today, but families with additional questions about the transition should call the Office of Learning and Leadership at (319) 558-2247.