Education

Cedar Rapids teachers union endorses three in school board elections

CREA picks Merschbrock over sole incumbent in the four-seat race

Dexter Merschbrock
Dexter Merschbrock
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The Cedar Rapids teachers union on Monday endorsed three candidates — Dexter Merschbrock, Cindy Garlock and David Tominsky — for the Cedar Rapids school board.

Eight candidates are vying for four seats on the board, which governs the 17,000-student Cedar Rapids Community School District. Elections are Nov. 5.

Merschbrock is running against incumbent Rafael Jacobo for a seat representing District 4, which includes the southeast quadrant of the city. Garlock is one of five running for one of two at-large seats on the board, and Tominsky is running unopposed for the District 1 position.

Merschbrock, a mail carrier and Grant Wood Elementary parent, would add a community perspective to the board as it implements its master facilities plan, the Cedar Rapids Education Association said in a statement.

Merschbrock criticized the amount of community input on the plan — which would close eight elementary schools and rebuild 10 others over two decades — when it passed and has remained critical as a candidate.

The CREA, in its endorsement statement, called the community input inadequate.

“Our membership is split on this facilities plan,” said Kelly McMahon, who led the CREA interview team and works as a kindergarten teacher at Hoover Elementary. “We’re not one way or another, but we think it’s very important to have more diverse voices. This viewpoint needs to be in the room when this moves forward.”

Merschbrock’s view of the plan contrasts with Jacobo’s, who voted for the facilities plan in January 2018 and has maintained his support. He is the only incumbent on this year’s ballot.

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Jacobo called the facilities plan “a blank slate” in a Tuesday meeting with The Gazette Editorial Board and said he values the plan’s built-in pauses for reevaluation.

“It laid out a larger plan, and I’m happy it was broken down into phases,” Jacobo said. “ ... There might be a need to change, (and) I feel that I’m flexible and adaptable.”

McMahon said the union also chose Merschbrock over Jacobo because of “very contentious” contract negotiations last year. Although the school board and then-Superintendent Brad Buck opened negotiations with a proposal to remove all but base wages from teacher contracts, they ultimately agreed to a five-year contract that left many permissible items intact.

“We need to have more dialogue between the district and teachers. Dexter really understood that, and he also understands Chapter 20 and what can and can’t happen there,” she said, referring to Iowa’s collective bargaining law, which was rewritten by Republicans in 2017. “With Rafael, he really didn’t have much to say other than he still needs to learn.”

Jacobo said the board’s actions “were perceived to be an attack” during the first negotiations after the legislative changes.

“I think we took that situation and did the best we could at the time, to try to make it so there was nobody harmed by it,” he said.

In the at-large race, the union chose to back Garlock in part because of her “considerable energy and advocacy skills,” according to the statement, as school boards across Iowa contend with public school funding issues.

Garlock, a retired Cedar Rapids teacher, is an activist for the Iowa Democratic Party.

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The CREA chose not to endorse a second candidate in the at-large race, which includes Maurice Davis, Janelle Lund, Joseph Miller and Jen Neumann.

“They all bring something great to the board, something of value,” McMahon said. “We went with Cindy because none of them could offer the educator’s voice that she could, but we could work with any of the remaining candidates for that second seat.”

Tominsky, for District 1, would bring enthusiasm about equity and technology to the school board, the CREA said, and has volunteered in Cedar Rapids schools for several years.

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

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