K-12 Education

School board members to skip facilities forum

The audience listens to public comment on the district's  Facilities Master Plan during a Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education meeting at the Education Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, December 11, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
The audience listens to public comment on the district's Facilities Master Plan during a Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education meeting at the Education Leadership and Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Monday, December 11, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — No Cedar Rapids school board members plan to attend a forum today, where community members will discuss a sweeping facilities proposal the board plans to vote on Jan. 22.

The forum’s organizer, Save CR Heritage, invited board members to sit on a panel at 6 p.m. at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.

But board President John Laverty said that “to answer questions on Jan. 2 in a public forum before we’ve had a chance to talk to each other ... is not appropriate.”

In an email, Laverty said he will be out of town, but “even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t attend her event.”

Laverty was referring to event organizer Cindy Hadish, who is on the board of Save CR Heritage, a historic preservation group.

The final facilities proposal was presented to the board Dec. 11. Its next meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Usually, board members do not respond immediately to questions and comments made during public input periods. During the Dec. 11 meeting, Laverty said that, because of Iowa’s sunshine law, the board cannot have “a discussion without the proper notice of the school district community.”

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“Because of this, we will not be able to engage in a dialogue with you at this time. But we can and will, however, refer matters to the superintendent for follow-up as appropriate,” Laverty said at the meeting. “And we independently, as board members, may also follow up with individuals based on your questions and comments.”

The school board received regular updates on the facilities plan’s development during the past year. The plan is in its final form, which includes the closing of eight of the Cedar Rapids district’s 21 elementary schools. Another 10 elementaries would be razed and rebuilt.

Laverty said he and other board members have “been asking questions and listening to a variety of viewpoints about the (facilities master plan) for many months and continue to do so.”

“Between the seven of us on the school board, we have talked with and heard from hundreds of citizens, parents, teachers, staff, current students, district alumni, other community leaders, and FMP committee members,” he said.

Including the Dec. 11 presentation and the board’s expected vote on the plan Jan. 22, three school board meetings are scheduled before board members decide.

Speaking during the public comment periods of those meetings would be the “most effective approach to present ... insights and requests for consideration to the Board,” district spokeswoman Akwi Nji said in an email, after The Gazette asked why Superintendent Brad Buck also declined an invitation to the forum.

“We felt that these board meetings, especially those on December 11 and January 8, would provide the community with a platform to share additional feedback and insights beyond what was presented at the public input sessions and present that information directly to the full board,” Nji said.

Although Laverty and other board members won’t be at the Tuesday forum, he said he plans to listen to the discussion when it is broadcast on KCRG-TV 9.2. Those airings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. Jan. 14, and 7 p.m. Jan. 17, according to KCRG’s website.

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