Cedar Rapids school closure opponents: School Board deserves “benefit of the doubt”
By Cindy Hadish
CEDAR RAPIDS – A growing surge of awareness surrounding the Cedar Rapids School District’s proposal to close eight neighborhood elementary schools led dozens of people to proceed with a meeting Saturday, even when the invited School Board members didn’t show.
The meeting at Raygun, 1028 Third St. SE in New Bohemia, attracted about 40 people, including parents of school children and others concerned with what the closings will do to their neighborhoods.
“We’re trying to get everyone to understand, it will affect you,” said Keith Hammer, one of the organizers of the group Save our Cedar Rapids Neighborhoods, who lives in the Grant Wood Elementary neighborhood, a school targeted for closure. “We need to make our voices known now.”
Kathee McCright, another organizer, said both Kristin Janssen, an at-large School Board member, and School Board President John Laverty had agreed earlier this week to attend the meeting, but notified her separately on Friday that they would not be attending.
Janssen cited the fact that the board had not heard the final proposal and the public would have further opportunities to address the board, McCright said, and Laverty gave a similar response.
NOTE: Save CR Heritage, the Sierra Club and Corridor Urbanism are hosting a community forum to discuss the school facilities plan from 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in the main auditorium of the downtown Cedar Rapids library. The event is open to the public. Members of the School Board and the School District have been invited to participate and attend.
The School Board is scheduled to hear the facilities recommendation at its meeting Monday, Dec. 11, at the Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Road NW.
Members of the public who wish to speak must sign in before the meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
The seven members of the board are scheduled to vote on the $224 million plan at their Jan. 22 meeting.
Parents and others at Saturday’s meeting cited concerns about property values, uncertainty regarding where their children would attend school, increased busing, decreased “walkability” and disruption of core neighborhoods, among other issues.
They also noted that the School District’s surveys appeared skewed toward building 13 new schools, and public input sessions held by the district seemed to be presentations by the consultants hired by the district, rather than a means of dialogue.
Dale Todd, newly re-elected to the Cedar Rapids City Council, had been a member of the facilities committee that examined options for the School District, but said he dropped out when talk of school closures began.
He noted that “for sale” signs immediately were posted at homes in the Polk School neighborhood in northeast Cedar Rapids when that school was closed in 2012.
“It closed for all the wrong reasons,” he said, citing political decisions, and added that disinvestment in the neighborhood quickly followed Polk’s closure.
Todd encouraged the attendees to become organized and to have a discussion with the School Board, to which several audience members replied that they are trying, but are being shut out by the board, as they were at Saturday’s meeting.
Many said they hoped the board would at least pause in making a decision.
“We need to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Hammer said.