So the Cedar Rapids School Board on Monday night swiftly and quietly dispatched the administration’s plan to have a $57,000 sculpture installed in the atrium of the Educational Leadership and Support Center.
It was back on Monday’s board meeting agenda, until Superintendent Dave Benson asked the board to remove it “with the intent not to bring it back in the future.” The board complied, 7-0.
Nobody explained, but you don’t have to be an expert in anodized, powder-coated aluminum to see the writing on the wall. After spending $44.5 million on its administrative headquarters, and closing schools to ease budget woes, the sculpture was simply one massive suspended orange knickknack too far. At least three board members raised concerns about the project’s timing and necessity. And, having lived here a few years, I can’t imagine there was a wave of public support.
Clearly, $57,000 is not big money. It is more than the median household income in this county, so it’s also not nothing. It comes from SILO dollars, which the district has pledged to spend on infrastructure, technology and property tax relief. The sculpture, for all its artistic merits, didn’t fit those categories.
So the board deserves praise for stepping away from the idea. It’s good to see the independently elected board show some independence from the wishes of the administration. The board has the final say in these issues, and its voice does not necessarily have to parrot the superintendent’s. It’s a small revolt, as I said before, but welcome nonetheless.
Maybe it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans within an enterprise that spends more than $278 million annually. But even a little scrutiny matters a lot, and this board is learning that since the Polk saga, its actions are being more closely watched than in the past. That’s not an blanket indictment of their leadership. It’s simply the way it should be for the largest governmental entity in this city, which collects more than $74 million in property taxes annually.
And I think, in the long run, the board will benefit. Its authority actually grows when its constituents are interested in its actions. A board that is served a healthy diet of constituent interest and citizen concern is a much better counterbalance to the administration than one that operates in the isolation of public apathy. And those constituents, hopefully, get a better, more responsive board.
So maybe the board feels like it got shoved around on the art issue. And I’m sure the extra scrutiny causes heartburn. But its members should take consolation in the fact that someone bothered to do the shoving.
And maybe the empty atrium itself can be some sort of postmodern art. Call it “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”