Petition drive surpasses goal; firm leading CR School District planning to be recommended for next new school contract
UPDATE:The special Cedar Rapids School Board meeting has been set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 16, 2022, at the Educational Leadership & Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW.Everyone is welcome to attend and if you’d like to speak, arrive early to fill out a form.
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
Save CR Heritage and school supporters surpassed a goal of 500 signatures needed to give residents a voice by placing the closure of Garfield Elementary on the Cedar Rapids School Board meeting agenda, but the board is opting to not include the item on its May 9 agenda.
Instead, a special meeting will likely be scheduled. No date has yet been set.
In the meantime, the firm leading discussions surrounding the district’s facilities master plan will be recommended to build the next new school.
The district’s oversight committee will recommend the School Board select OPN Architects, which also directs meetings of the facilities task force, to serve as architect on the next new elementary school.
OPN, which was involved in the initial process that came up with the plan to close neighborhood elementary schools and build new, larger schools, was the same firm hired as architect on the first two new schools.
The third new school will be built at the Arthur Elementary annex in northeast Cedar Rapids, and will combine students from Garfield Elementary and Arthur in a larger school.
Because the Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Education did not address the closure of Garfield or hold a public hearing when it decided in March to build the new school at Arthur, Save CR Heritage launched a petition drive to place the closure of Garfield on the School Board agenda.
The nonprofit has noted that closing neighborhood schools has far-reaching effects on the entire city.
“This plan has the potential to change the fabric of multiple local neighborhoods,” Nikki Halvorson, board president of Save CR Heritage said, citing students who will no longer be able to walk to school among other effects. “The hope is for there to be more detailed conversation between people within our community on this topic, as our group feels the plan will have a large and lasting impact on the whole city.”
School Board members voted in 2018 to close eight elementary schools, build 10 new “mega” schools that would each house 600 students and keep three newer schools.
“The public hasn’t had the opportunity to weigh in as a community or put the plan to a vote,” said Therese Smith, vice president of Save CR Heritage, adding that supporters want what is best for students, but believe more transparency is needed and residents deserve a voice.
Under a new law, Iowans can bring an agenda item to a school board with signatures of 500 district voters.
Volunteers collected 597 signatures, far surpassing the requirement.
Petitions were initially submitted Monday, May 2, within time to have the item included on the May 9 agenda, but Save CR Heritage was told the School Board only accepts petitions during meetings. Nothing in the new law indicates that requirement and Carol McMains, executive officer with the Iowa Department of Education, confirmed that petitions can be submitted at any time.
The board must hold a hearing on the petition proposal within 30 days, either at a regular meeting or a special meeting.
Save CR Heritage asked that the item be placed on the May 9 meeting to give the public time to plan to attend, but Laurel Day, executive administrator to the superintendent/board secretary, said the board’s legal counsel first needed to be consulted and the item would not be included on that agenda.
Regular meetings of the Board of Education are held at 5:30 p.m. at the Educational Leadership & Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, but special meetings are often held at 5 p.m., giving people who work regular hours less opportunity to attend those meetings.
Day also indicated the board only accepts original copies of petitions, even though the law allows both paper and electronic signatures.
Supporters, including the Grant Wood Advocacy Committee, also collected signatures. Grant Wood is among the schools scheduled to close under the district’s facilities master plan.
No plans are in place for the future use of either Garfield or Arthur Elementary, both of which opened in 1915. Neighbors said they are concerned about what might become of the buildings and some of the parents of Garfield students who signed the petition were unaware the school would be closed.
Save CR Heritage has been raising awareness of at-risk historic properties in Cedar Rapids since 2012. Help continue this important educational and advocacy work by donating here. We can’t do it without you!