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North Cedar Moving High School to Clarence in 2015

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STANWOOD, Iowa - North Cedar High School in Stanwood will close its doors in 2015.

Members of the North Cedar Community School District's school board voted 3-2 during a meeting Monday to approve closing the building and moving grades nine through 12 to North Cedar Middle School in Clarence. Superintendent Mike Cooper said he needs to trim $1 million from the district's fiscal year 2015 and 2016 budgets and he recommended that the district operate three school sites instead of four, which he estimated will save $500,000 to $600,000 annually, to help reach that goal.

"It allows us to keep our educational programs intact," Cooper said.

Starting in fall 2015, the Clarence building will house students in grades seven through 12. Students in grades five and six, who now go to North Cedar Middle School, will be divided between the district's elementary structures in Mechanicsville and Lowden.

In the past, Cooper has cited a declining student population as one reason for the recommendation to close the high school building.

Since 2009-10, when North Cedar staff served 937 students, the district's enrollment has dipped more than 8 percent to 860. That is a five-student increase from 2012-13, but Cooper said projections have the student population declining by 17 students each year for the next decade.

Board President Tessa Holst ended up casting the deciding vote on the proposal. She voted alongside Jane Malaby and Vice President Duane Stonerook to close the Stanwood school, while board members Vicki Bendixen and Aaron Horman opposed.

Bendixen and Horman both said that their votes were not expressly about keeping the high school open but rather about doing further study and having more time to make the final decision, echoing concerns shared by the three community members who spoke about the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Board members made the decision in front of a standing-room only crowd in the middle school's library, and many of the audience members left following the vote.

"Very frustrated," said Joni Gray, a meeting attendee, when asked how she felt about the results of the vote. "I think a lot of people are very frustrated."

Gray, who lives in Mechanicsville, is the mother of a North Cedar High School graduate and four district students: a high school senior, two eighth-graders and a kindergarten student. She said that she doesn't oppose closing a school building, but she favored taking more time to make that call.

Gray also expressed displeasure with how, as she sees it, some board decisions have favored certain geographic areas in the district.

"Stanwood and Mechanicsville get screwed," she said. "You're going to tear this community apart if you do this."

Superintendent Cooper said the next step is having administrators and board members work with architects and other people to work on reconfiguring the middle school and elementary schools to accommodate additional students.

Cooper said the district does not yet have an estimate of how much that work will cost.

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