Cedar Rapids School Board backs out of community forum; schedules board meeting for same night
Sep 2023

Cedar Rapids School Board backs out of community forum; schedules board meeting for same night

The auditorium of Wilson Middle School, one of the schools that could close in the future under the Cedar Rapids School District’s plans, is shown in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Note: The Community Forum on the Cedar Rapids school bond referendum is set for 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, in Whipple Auditorium at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE. Members of the school district’s Facilities Master Plan committee will be among panelists, along with teacher, parent and student perspectives. The event, hosted by Save CR Heritage, is free and open to the public, with time for audience questions.

By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cedar Rapids School Board has set a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, after initially agreeing to participate in a community forum about the school district’s proposed bond referendum, scheduled for the same night.

Hosted by Save CR Heritage, the forum, in Whipple Auditorium at the downtown public library, will feature a variety of voices for residents to learn about the proposed $220 million bond referendum and what it will mean for students, teachers, taxpayers and the community. A panel discussion will be followed by time for audience questions. Save CR Heritage chose the library as a neutral, centrally located site to make it convenient for residents to attend the forum.

School Board President David Tominsky initially agreed to participate on the panel, but then opted out, and the school board scheduled its special meeting on the bond petitions for the same night.

Dexter Merschbrock, the only school board member to vote against the resolution for the $220 million bond referendum, which could go to voters Nov. 7, also was invited to serve on the panel.

“We are disappointed the School Board decided to schedule their special meeting the same night as our community forum, as we had hoped to hear the board’s perspective on the bond referendum,” said Nikki Halvorson, president of Save CR Heritage, adding that the forum will still be held with other panelists. “More importantly, it would have been an opportunity for residents of the school district to ask questions of their elected officials in a public forum at a neutral site. We want to provide voters with complete information about the proposed bond issue, and hope the School Board is equally concerned about transparency when it comes to such a monumental shift with our schools.”

Among the proposed changes to be funded with taxpayers dollars is a new $127 million middle school at an as-yet undisclosed site. Though it will not appear in the ballot language, the school district has called for the closures of Wilson, Harding and Roosevelt middle schools in the future, so students attending those schools would likely be bused out of their neighborhoods.

Save CR Heritage offered to share their reserved time in Whipple Auditorium for the school board meeting, to be followed by the forum, but that offer was declined.

School Board secretary Ryan Rydstrom cited notification of the meeting, to be held at the district’s headquarters, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, but as of Sept. 19, the notice on the district’s website still did not indicate a location or any other information about the meeting. A notice posted inside the building, which is not visible to the public unless they go inside during business hours, states that the tentative agenda for the meeting is forthcoming.

The School Board must pass a resolution to call for an election on its proposed $220 million bond referendum and needs to gather at least 6,319 signatures of eligible voters in the district to call the election. Supporters have had about seven weeks to gather the petitions, which included school staff, school board members and the superintendent canvassing neighborhoods and signups at sporting events; drive-through petition drives at the high schools; placing petitions in all of the schools and posting about the need for signatures in email newsletters and social media. Requests to provide the same public resources for a petition to save Harrison Elementary School were turned down by Tominsky, who was among board members to vote to demolish the architecturally significant school.

School Board meetings are typically held on Monday nights. The special meeting to call for the election on the bond issue had tentatively been scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 20.

At a meeting Monday, Sept. 18, of the Master Facility Plan Oversight Committee, Karla Hogan, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said “it’s not uncommon” for school boards to have meetings the day petitions are due. The deadline is noon Friday, Sept. 22.

The Community Forum on the Cedar Rapids school bond referendum will be Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library, starting at 6 p.m. (photo/Cindy Hadish)


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