Education

3 incumbents won't run for Cedar Rapids school board, primed for a shake-up

Mary Meisterling, John Laverty, Kristin Janssen not running again

Panelists representing the Cedar Rapids Community School District present information Jan. 17, 2018, during a Gazette forum on the school district’s facilities plan in Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Panelists representing the Cedar Rapids Community School District present information Jan. 17, 2018, during a Gazette forum on the school district’s facilities plan in Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids school board is primed for a shake-up this November, when three incumbents won’t run for reelection.

Two of those departing have served on the seven-member board for a dozen years or more: John Laverty will close a 12-year tenure and Mary Meisterling ends 17 years of service.

Laverty, Meisterling and Kristin Janssen — first elected in 2015 — each confirmed to The Gazette their plans not to run for reelection.

Rafael Jacobo, whose term also expires this year, has plans for reelection, Laverty said.

For a school board comprised of members with an average length of service of almost nine years — more than the state average of 5.5 years, according to Iowa Association of School Board data — the November contests could reshape the group that governs the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s budget, superintendent and strategic direction.

Two candidates, David Tominsky, 43, and Jen Neumann, 46, already have announced intentions to run.

“I see it as an exciting challenge,” said Tominsky, an entrepreneur running for Meisterling’s seat. “The folks who are not going to run, they’re not planning to leave the community. We’ll still have access to their knowledge, and that’s pivotal. ... Those shoes are close to impossible to fill.”

He and Neumann — a partner with a Cedar Rapids marketing firm — will be two of the first board candidates listed on combined school and city election ballots.

The Iowa Legislature voted to combine school and city elections in an effort to increase turnout for school elections, which has historically remained low. In the last elections, in 2017, turnout in Linn County was less than 8 percent.

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“With a larger segment of the population voting, it will be more important for me to make sure I get those three major points out there,” said Neumann, who launched a campaign Friday focused on innovation in education, reaching every student and community building. “I’m a broader issues person; I’m not going into this because I’m upset about one thing or pushing for one particular thing. I think we need people who take a broader look at the issues.”

The filing period for both city and school elections starts Aug. 26.

“There are still people out there I know who are talking about the possibility of running and asking questions,” Laverty said. “I assume others will step up.”

Iowa Association of School Boards Executive Director Lisa Bartusek said her statewide organization is eager to see how many candidates file for school board contests as the first combined elections take shape.

In other states that have placed city and school elections on the same ballot, she said, the number of school board candidates has declined.

“We’ve always done this, but we’re upping our game even further in making sure citizens consider school board service and see it as valuable,” Bartusek said.

On a more crowded school-municipal ballot, candidates will likely need to spend more to create name recognition and to educate a larger pool of voters, she added. School board positions are not paid.

“School board members want the people who elect them to be informed voters,” she said. “I’ve heard our members considering what it will take now to ensure voters know who their school board candidates are and are making an informed decision.

“The assumption was anyone who showed up at the polls in September had a reason to be there. ... Now they have to be visible in an environment that includes another big election.”

Cedar Rapids Schools’ three outgoing incumbents

Mary Meisterling, District 1

Length of service: 17 years

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“It’s been a privilege for me to serve on the board for the last 17 years. I’ve served with many other board members over the years who have taught me a lot about governance, the role of the board, state funding and an (un) compromised focus on student equity and achievement. I’ve known David Tominsky for several years and feel he will serve the district very well and continue to maintain that focus. I support his candidacy and hope others will as well.”

John Laverty, At-large

Length of service: 12 years

“I’m proud of the last 12 years serving on the school board. I no longer have children in the school district, and I think it’s time to have some others step forward and use their experience. We’ve set a good foundation and strategic plan, and I have a lot of faith that (interim Superintendent) Noreen Bush and the current board members will work to implement that plan. I definitely think David Tominsky and Jen Neumann and Rafael Jacobo would all three do a wonderful job serving on the school board.”

Kristin Janssen, At-large

Length of service: 4 years

“I am very supportive of the CRCSD and the work that they are doing. The dedication of the district staff and volunteers (at all levels) as they face a variety of challenge is an asset our community, district, schools, and students. I was flattered to be elected and am proud to have been able to volunteer my time as a member of the school board. I look forward to supporting the district in other ways.”

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

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