Despite Supporters' Pleas, Polk Elementary Will Close

Meredith Hines-Dochterman & Jillian Petrus, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Supporters of Polk Elementary School knew their school's fate seconds before the last Cedar Rapids school board member voted in favor of closing the elementary school, but the news was still a shock.

"They're closing our school?" one child asked his mom.

The large group of Polk supporter left the school board meeting seconds after the proposal was approved. Muttering "No" and "Shame on you," Polk parents, students and even some staff members went out to the hallway to comfort each other.

"As you can see, were all stunned because I think we presented some worthwhile arguments (to the board)," Sue Nading, the mother of one Polk student, said.

The group had a moment of hope when the second board member to vote on closing the school said "No."

Board member Gary Anhalt was the only board member to vote against closing the school. Anhalt was the only board member to vote no on any of the seven recommendations Superintendent Dave Benson made to the school board in early February. However, every vote after his was "Yes," signifying the end of the school.

"The public is tired of all the governing bodies not listening to us," Polk parent Jennifer Hill told the school board.

Calling Polk a public issue, Hill said the public has spoken. Nearly 1,800 signatures were collected showing support for the year-round elementary school. On Monday, supporters from all sides – parents, grandparents, community leaders and former students – stood before the board to make their final pleas.

"It makes no sense, either common sense or fiscally, to close Polk, where so much is being gained," Hill said.

The school board adjourned for 10 minutes following the vote to close Polk. At that time, four recommendations had been presented and approved, including an unanimous vote to close the Monroe Early Childhood Center. When the meeting reconvened, most of the members of the audience had left, with those most affected by the school board's decision not around the hear board members ask for a positive transition process to benefit all Cedar Rapids students.
"We have been told from the beginning of this process that district-wide changes and school building closings will never make everyone happy," board member Allen Witt said.

Citing one of the enrollment studies main goals, to ensure equity and access to programs and services, Witt stressed that the district is not abandoning anyone.

"Our proposal will make needed educational services more available to those most in need," Witt said.

Board member Ann Rosenthal said board members spent a lot of time studying the issue and talking with the public about it.

"We really, really value the impact of the community, even if the vote didn't go the way you wanted it," Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal asked that those who spoke in favor of Polk now work with the board, and the district, as it moves forward.

"We need to make this a positive transition," Mary Meisterling, the school board's vice president, added.

Rosenthal also suggested that the district reconsider Harrison Elementary School's future.

Harrison was one of four Cedar Rapids elementary schools on the list for possible school closure, but it didn't make Benson's list of recommendations. At the time, Benson said leaving Harrison open was an effort to support the city's flood recovery. However, with the city's Cedar Rapids Extended Sales Tax (CREST) vote failing for the second time, several board members said the school needs to be reassessed in the next year, not the next five years as originally discussed.

"All of us only want what's best for the community," Board President John Laverty said. "Despite what anyone said tonight, the board members spent countless hours on these issues."

Polk's boundary will be divided into three attendance areas: Arthur, Garfield, and Johnson elementary schools, but current Polk students may permit to any elementary east of both I-380 and the Cedar River. This includes Arthur, Erskine, Garfield, Grant Wood, Johnson, Kenwood, Nixon, and Wright elementary schools.

Polk students also may permit to Taylor Elementary School to continue with the modified-year school calendar. Transportation from Polk to Taylor provided to accommodate students continuing with the modified-year school calendar.

The closing of the Monroe Early Childhood Center means those students will be assigned to their resident elementary schools: Erskine, Grant Wood, and Johnson.

Families of students affected by a boundary change or school closure will receive detailed information by mail. The letters will be mailed on Tuesday, but families with additional questions regarding the transition should call the Office of Learning and Leadership at 558-2247.

Hiawatha Elementary School attendance boundary shifts to include Five Seasons Manufactured Home Community, Agin Court Apartments from Viola Gibson Elementary School. Hiawatha Elementary School boundary east of I-380 and south of Boyson Road shifts to Nixon Elementary School. Nixon Elementary School boundary south of Blairs Ferry Road shifts to Wright Elementary School.

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.

Students residing in the Wright Elementary School attendance center boundary will attend Washington High School.
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