Michelle Merschbrock’s Speech to the Cedar Rapids School Board

Last night, January 22, 2018, the Cedar Rapids Community School District School Board voted unanimously to close eight elementary schools. Before the vote the public was allowed to comment. Dozens of people spoke, all but three asking for the school board to delay the vote. Michelle Merschbrock gave one of the most powerful public comments of the night, reprinted below.

I am speaking today to the facilities master plan to close eight elementary schools here in Cedar Rapids. I share many of the same concerns about the plan as many attendees here today. However, I also agree that facilities need to be updated. I am concerned with the mismanagement of funds within our district, allowing for schools to deteriorate to the point that this is a reality. I am disappointed in how this plan came to fruition. I am dismayed that resident’s attempts to ask questions and receive adequate answers have been ignored or glossed over, and I am frustrated that he school board members we elected are not considering our voice in this decision.

PPEL and SAVE funds are made available to you because we, the residents, have invested in Cedar Rapids and enrolled our children in the district. Although the loophole here allows you to vote without consent of the general public, it would be rash to make that vote without consideration for the people who will be voting not only in the next board election, but for the inevitable bonds in our future.

No one is against giving our kids the best, and everyone believes in the “future ready” mission. But the fact is, there are alternate plans, such as one proposed by the committee itself that would only close 3 elementary schools, rather than 8. But we must be careful not to do this at the expense of our children, our established communities, and ultimately, the morale of Cedar Rapids and whether or not we trust our elected officials.

There are ways to give our kids updated facilities without destroying the unique fabric of our inner city. I request the board take more time to consider this plan and dissect the information presented by the committee, and to also take time to start a real conversation with members of the community. I think
you’d be surprised at how willing people are to get involved when they know they will be heard, and how willing people are to compromise when given the chance.

I have spent my free time in the last week walking around neighborhoods, asking residents what they think about the plan. In this short amount of time, I alone got over 100 signatures asking the board to delay the vote. And resoundingly, the reasons were the same: we moved here because the school is so close. We love the small, close knit community for our children and family. I am concerned about longer transportation times and increased traffic. I am worried about young families moving away. Or, I didn’t
realize this vote was coming up so soon, and I didn’t realize we had a voice.

Given these responses, I think everyone should pay close attention to not only what happens here today, but also every future meeting, decision, and election that follows. We need to be diligent in taking care of our schools and neighborhoods, with the realization that someone else may not be there
to do it for us. We should also consider; just who is benefitting from this plan?