116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A “yes committee” to rally support from voters for the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s proposed $312 million bond referendum will be led by Scott Drzycimski, a Jefferson High alum and parent to children in the district.
Drzycimski — director of public affairs at ITC Midwest, an electricity transmission company based in Cedar Rapids — believes students and educators in the Cedar Rapids district deserve safe and equitable learning spaces. The “yes committee” — which is looking for members — is a grassroots effort to educate residents about the plan and encourage them to vote, Drzycimski said.
“I’m not sure there’s ever a perfect time to ask” voters to support a bond issue by raising their taxes, Drzycimski said, but:
“I’m afraid if we wait, we might miss an opportunity and we don’t make this any cheaper for the community long-term. One of my favorite sayings is the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is right now,” he said. “All of us have costs and the challenges of meeting rising bills, but I think our kids are worth us investing in these schools.”
The Cedar Rapids district’s general obligation bond issue, if approved, would fund a seven- to 10-year plan to improve secondary schools, which includes building a new aquatic center to replace the three pools in the district’s high schools and a new 1,200-student middle school. The school board is expected next month to approve a timeline for the plan, including taking a bond referendum to district voters in September.
The committee will conduct polling in the community to gauge how residents feel about the plan, even going door-knocking to get information to residents and answer questions, Drzycimski said. The group will fundraise and reach out to potential donors, he said.
One of the main goals of the district ‘s plan is to reduce the number of middle schools in the district from six to four and provide more equitable services to all students. This would create a feeder system from middle school to high school, and it would reduce operational and maintenance costs for the district, director of operations Jon Galbraith said in a school board meeting last week.
Anyone interested in joining the yes committee can contact Drzycimski by emailing him at FutureReadySchoolsCR@gmail.com.
‘Real challenges’ with current facilities
Wilson Middle School Principal Mike Waters said the age and size of some of the district’s middle schools present “real challenges.” Under the proposal, Wilson Middle School, 2301 J St. SW, may be demolished and a new building built on the site.
“Wilson is a beautiful building — there’s no denying that,” Waters said. “The architecture is great. We had only one broken window during the derecho because a branch fell in to it. Other than that it was damage-free. What also is true is that it is wildly ineffective as an educational institution in 2022.”
There is only one section of each class at Wilson, isolating teachers who don’t have peers in the building to bounce ideas off of and help them problem solve.
“I have one teacher per subject,” Waters said. “That means one sixth-grade math teacher, who doesn’t have anyone to talk to about how to be a better sixth-grade math teacher. She can talk to other sixth-grader teachers or other math teachers, but she has no one to talk to about sixth-grade math.”
Waters believes the district is losing out on qualified teachers for this reason. Candidates often ask about who they will have the opportunity to collaborate with, Waters said.
Larger schools mean more teachers who can be in professional learning communities working to improve and in turn improve learning outcomes for students, Waters said.
Classrooms themselves vary in size at Wilson. Waters said a class of 25 students in one classroom will fit well, but in another “they’re almost sitting on top of each other.” The school also has six lunch periods to serve the 420-student body.
The problem isn’t unique to Wilson. The district is in the midst of a plan to rebuild and renovate its elementary schools for many of the same reasons. Building new, larger elementary schools will alleviate operational challenges smaller schools present and provide consistency to staff and students, school officials say.
The elementary school work has been funded by SAVE — Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — which is an existing statewide sales tax allocated to school districts based on enrollment.
First bond on ballot 20 years
The $312 million bond referendum proposed in Cedar Rapids would be the largest school bond request to be put forward in the state. The Cedar Rapids district has not put a bond issue on the ballot in more than 20 years.
If the bond is approved, the debt service portion of the district’s property tax levy — which is currently zero — would increase to $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable valuation. For example, the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would see a tax increase of about $23 per month, or about $280 per year for 20 years, according to board documents.
In Iowa, school bond issues — basically loans that schools take out typically for 10, 15 or 20 years — require a supermajority of 60 percent of voters to pass. In passing bond issues, voters agree to repay the loan, with interest, through their property taxes.
School districts, by law, cannot take a position on bond referendums. They can provide the facts about a bond vote and ask residents to vote. But the promotion and advocacy for the proposals comes from “vote yes” committees of residents.
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