116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Oct. 20, 2021 6:05 pm, Updated: Oct. 22, 2021 9:42 am
Cara Lausen, Geralyn Jones, Kara Larson, Matt Rollinger, Melissa Walker and Rachel Wall are running for three at-large seats on the Linn-Mar Community School District Board. ► Get to know the other school board candidates
Name: Cara Lausen
Office sought: Linn-Mar Community School Board at-large (incumbent)
Age: 38 (born Aug. 3, 1983)
Occupation: Manager, corporate affairs at Convergence Acquisitions, LLC
Campaign website: facebook.com/caralausenforlinnmar
Have you held office before? If so, what office did you hold? I have served four years on the Linn-Mar Board of Education, most recently in the role of board Vice President. Prior to being elected, I served on the Bowman Woods Elementary as PTO vice president and president — while these are not elected positions, they are leadership positions within the Linn-Mar Schools.
Personal bio: My name is Cara Lausen; I am a born and raised Cedar Rapidian and have served our community the last four years on the Linn mar Board of Education.
Our family gives much credit to where we are today to the communities we were raised in, so we must support our community the same way it helped us. As a small-business owner, I have considerable flexibility to pursue my passions for volunteerism and philanthropy.
Volunteerism is where I grew my roots in our district. Years ago I began volunteering, and I met and created relationships with the most incredible people — staff, students, and parents alike. I continue to volunteer in the district for events as much as possible without being too embarrassing to our teens.
Professionally, my work on the legal side of financial services and as a business owner has provided me with innumerable skills and a degree of perseverance that never ceases to surprise me. I also serve as a legislative advocate for our industry.
Why are you seeking a seat on the school board?
As I mentioned in my bio, my family prioritizes volunteerism & philanthropy. Serving the Linn-Mar Community School District on the School Board is the most effective way for me to give back to our community with my set of skills.
I am particularly passionate about equity and would like the opportunity to continue the work this board has started.
Throughout the last four years, we as a district have navigated many significant initiatives. From opening two new intermediate buildings to issuing devices to each to our students, I have been a major proponent for equity of access. Time and time again using my voice to amplify the voices of those whose life experiences are not directly reflected by any one of us with a seat at the table.
However, we must continue to amplify the perspectives and experiences of our district stakeholders to continue the task of reducing barriers to access to our programs — both academic and extracurricular. I want the opportunity to continue this mission.
How do you rate the district’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
I am very proud to be part of the Linn-Mar community; however, I am not so hubristic as to think there is no room for improvement. We should always seek to improve our district; as board members, we strive to make decisions through the lens of "What's best for Students?" — and stagnation is never what's best. We should continue to provide best-in-class education and do all we can to ensure the best possible outcomes for each student. Unfortunately, many of our students come to our schools with barriers to learning, and some students experience these barriers in our buildings. We need to continue to work to breakdown these obstacles to ensure each student can achieve their own personal best. District leaders and staff at all levels have spent much time focusing on social-emotional health — improvements in just this one area will improve our students' and staff's experiences and outcomes. Like many employers in the area and school districts nationwide, the district is facing staffing shortages — while it certainly isn't the silver bullet to fix this issue, time spent on staff development and ensuring their needs are met as well should continue to be front of mind.
What are the three largest issues facing the school district and what will you do to address them?
Growth — Nearly every report given at the board table from Marion City Council meetings includes mention of another plot zoned for residential. While district growth slowed due to the pandemic, it would be naive to think we are 'in the clear.' We will need to continue to address class sizes and space in our buildings, as opening the new intermediate buildings was only a temporary fix. There is currently a committee formed of board members, staff, parents, and community stakeholders to discuss and recommend what specific facilities are needed over the next 10 yrs. I look forward to hearing their recommendations.
Financial — Salaries & benefits make up the majority of the district's General Fund. Budget is where the growth 'problem' becomes important — because the General Fund is comprised mainly of state aid and property tax revenues. LMCSD is a 'property poor' district — this means because our property tax base is primarily residential, our revenues are negatively impacted, and each of those parcels has to "work harder" to support the district. We need to continue to work with the city of Marion to encourage commercial development within our boundaries to reduce the burden on our residential taxpayers. We also need to continue to advocate with our legislators for higher increases to state supplemental aid. I would love to see an overhaul of how Special Education is funded as well — in 2021, LMCSD is facing a Special Education deficit of over $3 million.
What level of local control do you think school boards should have?
In Iowa, there are over 300 school districts — only 19 of which are considered “large/urban” like Linn-Mar. Each of these districts has a unique community and student body; this is why the governance of school districts is left to school boards. Higher levels of government are too far removed to effectively govern the complex issues that come before a school board. This ability to set policy that is unique to the needs of our community allows our schools to be responsive to the ever-evolving needs of our students, families, and constituency.
What will you do to be responsive to concerns by parents, students and staff? What type of communications should they expect from you?
I do my best to be responsive to parents, students, and staff regardless of the means of communication. However, the climate in which school board members are working lately has made this challenging. I strive to be a partner in problem-solving and an emphatic listener.
Should school districts be allowed to enact a mask requirement for students during the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, what type of masking requirement would you want to see in place?
I stand by the decision approved by the Linn-Mar Board of Education on Sept. 16, 2021, to require masks for grades PK-6 students, with an ending date of 60 days after the COVID vaccination is available for PK-6 grade students.
If you were required to cut the district’s budget, what areas would you look to for savings and why?
One policy the board has at their disposal to impact the general fund is 401.10 Licensed Personnel Early Separation. This policy allows for early retirement for qualified licensed personnel, allowing the district to fill this position with a new employee at a starting salary. The retirement is then paid out of a different fund, which frees up money within the general fund without eliminating a position. As a district, we have been fortunate enough recently to retain our incredible, experienced teachers — however, if we continue to see low increases in state supplemental aid, I foresee the board needing to 'pull this lever' and offer early separation sooner rather than later.
Are there curriculum concerns that you have with the district? What are they? What process should the district use to address the concern?
I don't have any specific curriculum concerns; however, we need to continue to address the learning loss created by the pandemic as a district. Nationwide, districts were issued federal funds as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER). While there was broad authority on using these funds — Linn-Mar committed these funds to positions and programs that would directly impact the work being done to close the gap. In a March 2021 board meeting, Assoc. Superintendent Wear highlighted the data demonstrating this loss and spotlighted how our incredible teachers would adapt once again to use an equitable approach to capturing lost instruction. This approach allows teachers to maximize learning by addressing these gaps as they present themselves with individual students or groups. As a board member, I will advocate for innovative interventions that give all our students ample opportunity to understand the standard being taught entirely.