Cedar Rapids Superintendent Makes School Closing Recommendations

By Jillian Petrus & Meredith Hines, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The Cedar Rapids school district could save $1.15 million if board members vote in favor of Superintendent Dave Benson's school closure and boundary recommendations.

Benson presented his recommendations at Monday night's school board meeting. These include closing Monroe and Polk elementary schools, and re-purposing Polk to house district programs currently operating in leased spaces throughout the city.

Closing Monroe would net the district $471,683. Closing Polk and re-purposing the building is a savings of $562,014. Relocating off-site programming to Polk would save the district $119,932.

Benson has repeatedly said that the school closure and boundary change recommendations are his to make, but he didn't work alone.

Benson's Enrollment Stakeholder Committee provided the initial proposals. The district's public input forums earlier this month gave parents an opportunity to share their thoughts with Benson and other district administrators. Benson also put together an External Advisory Committee, comprised of nine community leaders: Robert Kazimour, Emmett Scherrman, Gary Hinzman, Jim Craig, Jim Piersall, Lee Clancey, Pat Baird, Ralph Palmer and Tom Moore.

Benson, who has lived in the community less than three years, told the school board that the committee's input helped him in making his recommendations, as they have background knowledge he doesn't. Several of their recommendations were among those Benson presented to the school board.

Board members will vote on these recommendations at the March 12 school board meeting.

"The responsibility for this process truly rests on the board," board member Gary Anhalt said Monday. "This is something we asked for."

The elementary school recommendations are as follows:

The Monroe Early Childhood Center will close and students will be assigned to their resident (Erskine, Grant Wood and Johnson) elementary schools.
Grant Early Childhood Center will become a K-5 elementary school.
Polk Elementary School will close and the school boundary will be divided into three elementary attendance boundaries -- Arthur, Garfield, and Johnson elementary schools.
Polk Elementary School will be repurposed by the district to house district programs. There also is potential for partnership with City of Cedar Rapids.
Harrison Elementary School will remain open in an effort to support the city's flood recovery effort. If neighborhood/residential enrollment at the school does not grow to at least 70% of building capacity within five years (2016-17 school year), the District will reassess its position on the future of the school.
Madison Elementary School will remain open under current attendance center boundaries.
Van Buren Elementary School boundary area east of the railroad tracks shifts to Grant Elementary School.
The Hiawatha Elementary School boundary east of I-380 shifts to Nixon Elementary School.
Hiawatha Elementary School attendance boundary shifts to include Five Seasons Manufactured Home Community, Agin Court Apartments from Viola Gibson Elementary School.
The Nixon Elementary School boundary south of Blairs Ferry Road shifts to Wright Elementary School.
Wilson Elementary School closes and moves to Grant Elementary School.

If Polk closes, families may permit to any elementary school that is located east of both I-380 and the Cedar River. This includes Erskine, Grant Wood, Johnson, Arthur, Kenwood, Garfield, Nixon and Wright elementary schools.

"We believe we have room," Benson said. "I think that's a way for managing this school closure for Polk."

Polk families may also permit to Taylor Elementary School which, like Polk, is a year-round school. Benson's recommendations include keeping Taylor as a year-round school, at least for the 2012-13 school year, to gauge how many Polk families make the transfer.

Benson's middle school boundary recommendations are as follows:

Wilson School becomes a 6-8 facility.
Franklin Middle School feeders will be Arthur, Garfield, Kenwood, and Pierce.
Harding Middle School feeders will be Hiawatha, Nixon, Viola Gibson, and Wright.
McKinley Middle School feeders will be Erskine, Grant Wood, and Johnson.
Roosevelt Middle School feeders will be Cleveland, Hoover, Harrison, and Madison.
Taft Middle School feeders will be Coolidge, Jackson, and Truman.
Wilson Middle School feeders will be Grant, Taylor, and Van Buren.

The only high school boundary recommendation calls for students residing in the Wright Elementary School attendance center boundary to attend Washington High School. All other existing high school attendance boundaries will remain the same.

Benson's recommendations include a change to the transition plan he presented to board members in January. Current sixth grade student affected by boundary changes can choose to remain in their current middle school for seventh and eighth grades, or attend their newly-assigned middle school.

Before Benson made his recommendations, the school board listened to a transportation impact report which said there was a limited impact regarding the proposed boundary changes. However, the district's transportation manager, Denny Schreckengast, said closing Monroe would free up 20 bus routes.

The full list of Benson's recommendation can be viewed on the school district's website at www.cr.k12.ia.us : click here.
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