Benson showcases optimism at first State of District event

Superintendent stresses he's 'very optimistic' about district's future, despite challenges

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April 1, 2014 | 3:21 am

Despite record lows in state funding and declining enrollment, Superintendent Dave Benson said the Cedar Rapids Community School District is not in crisis.

Benson made the comment at the State of the District meeting, his first as superintendent and the district's first since 2006, held on Friday morning at the Educational Support and Leadership Center.

During his presentation, which covered everything from the district's facilities and strategic plans to student ACT scores, Benson repeated his positive outlook for the schools.

"Despite our historic moment in time that we're in, I'm very optimistic," he said to the more than 200 community members in attendance.

Benson praised faculty, staff, volunteers and student performance, as well as the City of Cedar Rapids' work with the Highway 100 expansion.

"That is the most optimistic long-term thing in the district," he said, citing potential growth that project could bring.

That note was markedly different than the one he struck in a school board meeting on Dec. 10, when he called for the district to have exercise "more austerity" as it faces a dwindling unspent balance and an unclear state funding forecast.

"We are going to have to respond to that," Benson said of the climate created by recent funding decreases. "This is a management issue."

Benson reiterated the district's desire to receive 4 percent allowable growth -- an annual budget increase for school districts -- from the state for the 2014 fiscal year, saying that at least 1.75 percent allowable growth will be necessary in order for Cedar Rapids schools to see any new money and "hold the district harmless."

The superintendent also touched on new initiatives in social media, marketing and closing the achievement gap. He pressed audience members to contact their representatives and advocate for public education and said the district will also be taking "a more active role legislatively."

That message resonated with Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association, who was in the audience.

"I was really excited to hear Dr. Benson encourage legislative conversations," said Wawro, a former Cedar Rapids district teacher. "It's a crime that we've had 0 percent allowable growth under the [Gov. Terry Branstad] administration."

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