CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Community School District has splintered over tense teacher contract negotiations and a plan to close eight elementary schools, school board candidate Joseph Miller said, and “is in need of healing.”
“There are people on different sides of the conversation who feel like their voices weren’t heard,” said Miller, 39. “I feel like our community needs to be able to feel like we’re making decisions for our children together.”
Miller, a lawyer and a father of six young children, said he decided to run for the Cedar Rapids school board to help set an example of collaboration.
School and city elections are Nov. 5. Miller is one of five candidates running for two at-large seats on the board.
Many of the divides among the district’s constituents could heal, or deepen, depending on who the next school board hires as superintendent, Miller said, noting he would prioritize transparency throughout that hiring process.
With the departure of Superintendent Brad Buck, the Cedar Rapids district will be headed by Interim Superintendent Noreen Bush until June 2021.
“I want that process to be as transparent as legally possible, so that this is our decision as a community and not just the decision of non-expert board members,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion, and there needs to be an objective evaluation of who these candidates are.”
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The board, too, should be more transparent as it moves ahead with its 20-year master facilities plan, Miller said, and a better partner to the Cedar Rapids teachers union. Many teachers felt the board was adversarial during contract negotiations last year, the first since Republicans rewrote the state’s collective bargaining law.
“Teachers are critical and absolutely need us to empower them and focus their time and energy on our kids,” said Miller, whose school-age children attend Jackson Elementary and Taft Middle School. “Why take away their ability to have a voice in negotiating their benefits package? Why add that to the burdens already on their shoulders?”
Miller has experience building community partnerships, he said, both as a volunteer leader for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as a board member of the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation — where he serves with another at-large school board candidate, Jen Neumann.
“My heart is in giving and unifying and partnering — every member of the foundation feels the same way,” he said. “Those qualities and those desires are strengths I would carry over.”
Other candidates for the two at-large positions on the school board are Cindy Garlock, Maurice Davis and Janelle Lund. School board terms are four years, and members are not paid.
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