Government

Voters approve money for Cedar Rapids schools, oust incumbent who voted for controversial plan

Dexter Merschbrock, candidate for the Cedar Rapids Community School District board, votes Tuesday morning at the Precinct 26 polling place at Grant Wood Elementary School. Under a school facilities plan he campaigned against, Grant Wood school would be closed along with seven other schools in the district. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Dexter Merschbrock, candidate for the Cedar Rapids Community School District board, votes Tuesday morning at the Precinct 26 polling place at Grant Wood Elementary School. Under a school facilities plan he campaigned against, Grant Wood school would be closed along with seven other schools in the district. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — In the first election it faced since the Cedar Rapids school board unanimously approved a facilities plan that includes closing eight elementaries, the only incumbent in the race was voted out — but voters approved a measure giving the district access to funding for the facilities plan.

Dexter Merschbrock, Cindy Garlock, Jen Neumann and David Tominsky were elected to the board and Public Measure E easily received a majority of votes.

Merschbrock, a 33-year-old mail carrier who campaigned against the Facilities Master Plan, ousted incumbent Rafael Jacobo, who has represented District 4 for one four-year term.

Election results: Full results from Cedar Rapids school election, other area district races

Retired teacher Garlock and Neumann, a partner in the de Novo marketing firm, were the top candidates in a five-way race for two at-large seats. Terms on the school board are for four years, and its seven members are unpaid.

Merschbrock — a parent who lives near Grant Wood Elementary, one of the schools slated to close under the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s facilities master plan — said he plans to work on community engagement.

“On all issues, we need to get more people involved and build consensus,” he said. “Actually building trust in the school board is what’s important in getting anything done — whether it’s closing facilities, closing the achievement gap, any of those issues. A small group of people paying attention can drive the community forward, but it really should be a communitywide effort.”

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Garlock, who since retiring from Kennedy High has become a noted Democratic activist, said she hopes to improve communication as well.

Many people she met while campaigning better understood the facilities plan — which would produce larger elementary schools to increase efficiency — after their conversations, she said.

“There are so many other very important, very critical decisions the board needs to be making beyond the facilities plan,” Garlock, 65, said. “A lot of that is just communication with the public — which has sort of been one of my themes.”

While she cares about the cost savings of the plan, Neumann said she is looking forward to rolling out the first step of the plan — building a new Coolidge Elementary — and seeing how it impacts learning.

“How does it impact the student experience, how does it impact teachers and what comes of that? I’ll be watching and very curious about what this Phase One does for our community,” said Neumann, 46,

Garlock and Neumann were elected over three others — Maurice Davis, Janelle Lund and Joseph Miller. Tominsky ran unopposed for District 1.

New members join Gary Anhalt, Jennifer Borcherding and Nancy Humbles on the board.

Jacobo was the only incumbent on the ballot this time. Three incumbents declined to run again: Mary Meisterling, who represented District 1 for 17 years; John Laverty, who held an at-large seat for 12; and Kristin Janssen, an at-large member for a term.

Public Measure E, which needed a simple majority to pass, asked voters to approve a Revenue Purpose Statement to give the district access to revenue from an extension of a state penny sales tax.

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The extension of the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education, or SAVE, tax was approved in the Iowa Legislature earlier this year.

The Cedar Rapids district’s share is expected to be about $716 million by 2051, according to the district, and has been allocated for the plan.

Regardless of the measure’s success, Merschbrock said it will be up to board members to decide how to use it. “Obviously I have my own vision for this, but it takes the whole board,” he said.

The plan, as approved by the board in 2018, would reshape the district’s 21 elementaries. It would raze 10 — Arthur, Cleveland, Coolidge, Erskine, Harrison, Hoover, Jackson, Pierce, Wright and Johnson — and build larger facilities on the sites. The board has said it would consider renovating rather than razing Harrison and would build a smaller school at Johnson.

Three schools — Grant, Hiawatha and Viola Gibson — would be significantly remodeled. The remaining eight would be closed and repurposed: Garfield, Grant Wood, Kenwood, Madison, Nixon, Taylor, Truman and Van Buren.

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

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