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Closing/Repurposing Schools Criteria - December 2016
By John Tursi

JohnTursi, member of the Facilities Master CommitteeI am honored to be part of the Cedar Rapids Community School District Facilities Master Planning Committee and specifically the sub-committee that is working to establish criteria needed to consider closing or repurposing schools.  Many challenges face the District because of aging buildings, diminishing facility budgets, and shifting demographics.  The CRCSD must consider all factors, as well as the many ways each could impact our community in the future.  This is no small task but the District recognizes that it must be prepared.  The work of this Committee is part of that plan.

The District has assured Committee members of the following: First, no decisions have already been made.  They have not pulled us together to appease the community.  We have been assembled to do what is right.  This understanding is evident as the sub-committees do their work. Second, the greater community will have the opportunity to be involved and to help determine what path is chosen for schools.  The District has scheduled multiple public input sessions throughout the process. Third, transparency is a top priority.

In order for the sub-committees to reach a consensus and then make recommendations to the Board of Education, we are considering District finances, as well as the implications of those financials.  The sub-committees are also considering background information that provides historical context.  Most importantly, we are focusing on the needs of students.  It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that all students have the tools necessary to succeed in life.  The CRCSD is committed to being the best provider of those tools that it can be.   

Our two sub-committee meetings have been lively and spirited conversations.  Not everyone agrees, which promotes great discussion. The first meeting was comprised of looking at the big picture.  Where are we at now, where do we want to be in the future, and where can we get to if the current situation stays the same.  Next, we looked at the current topographical geography of Cedar Rapids.  While geography is not leading our conversations, we have discussed potential geographic barriers that could affect decisions made.  (If only that darn river was straight!) 

For the second meeting we were asked to review and provide insight related to several articles and to consider ways to keep the community involved and informed when consideration is given to closing or repurposing schools.  We were then tasked with developing our ‘Belief’ statements:

  • We believe the decision to close a school should consider qualitative, as well a quantitative data.  The fiscal reality is compelling, there this also an intangible impact of a school – its presence, educational programming, traditions, architecture have in its contribution to a neighborhood.  There qualitative traits are difficult to measure, but must be considered and communicated in the deliberation of that decision.
  • We believe prior to closing a school, other options that would implement innovative educational programming (McKinley and Johnson) should be explored to increase enrollment.
  • We believe the district needs to be able to financially support and maintain the facilities in its inventory
  • We believe that if a school needs to be repurposed or closed, discussions need to involve multiple considerations to make an informed decision
  • We believe the considerations need to include accessibility, safety, student performance (both growth and absolute), environment, and cost of operations

I am very enthusiastic about the work that is underway.   Challenging decisions are ahead but we must plan now for the future by Re-Imagining, Re-Envisioning and Re-Investing in our schools.

John Tursi is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cedar Rapids;