The long Polk Elementary saga I detailed a week ago is over, but the Cedar Rapids School District is preparing to embark on a major new facilities study process that we should all be watching.
Later this summer, the district will begin an eight-month process aimed at creating a “Facilities Master Plan” to guide the district for years to come. There will be discussions on the future of older core neighborhood schools, such as Harrison Elementary, and of the possibility of new schools, either in the core or the growing urban outskirts. All of these facilities decisions will be wrapped in a discussion of how teaching and learning should drive them.
A 15-20-member Facilities Master Plan Steering Committee, including members from the district, City Hall and business community, will look at the bricks and mortar. An eight- to 12-member Instructional Visioning Committee, with members from the district, local colleges and the community, will look at educational issues.
The instructional side starts meeting in August. The facilities committee begins in September. Architecture-engineering firm Shive-Hattery is facilitating both groups. A final report is due to the Board of Education in March.
The question is, will this process, unlike the one that led us to Polk’s fate, be open from day one?
Superintendent Dave Benson and School Board President John Laverty have assured us that it will be an open process, from the beginning. Some details have yet to be worked out, but it appears openness will be a priority.
If that vow holds up, it’s good news. It’s proof that although the Polk saga led to a disappointing result, the district is now listening to those of us who want future paths leading to critical decisions to become much more transparent.
Clearly, this should be a wide-open process. The reasons aren’t tough to surmise. These buildings and the instruction that goes on inside them are paid for by taxpayers, many with children directly impacted by whatever master plan emerges. This school district belongs to its residents, and they should be present when big public policy decisions are being manufactured. And their elected school board should betaking the lead. Decisions on the future of schools will have a deep community impact, on neighborhoods, businesses, other government institutions.
And, again, this isn’t all about media access. It’s about allowing folks to watch, understand and contribute. The district appears to understand that as facilities take center stage again. And we’ll be watching, closely.