Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guest Post! Jim Kenyon!

I've known James Kenyon since the first week I moved to Cedar Falls, fifteen years ago.  He was our precious cat's veterinarian, and Laurel and I were impressed by his knowledge, wisdom, and kindness.  (That's not his picture above - it's a picture of Tristam from All Creatures Great and Small.  But feel free to picture Tristam - they are a lot alike).  We have much in common.  We are both on the school board.  And we both consider ourselves politically moderate, and we both consider the other one less so.  

Dr. Kenyon has been on the school board for two decades.  He is a fiscal conservative, and was endorsed by Terry Branstad when he ran for congress recently.  There is no reasonable person alive who would accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about, or wasting a dime of tax-money.  Many of the people currently putting "Vote NO" signs on their lawn probably voted for him when he ran, because they believed in his knowledge and fiscal responsibility.  Let's hear what he has to say:

For the future of our whole community, I encourage support for the upcoming bond referendum.  It is the most important choice that our community has had to make in the last 60 years regarding investment in our schools, infrastructure, and future growth and prosperity.

My fellow board member has commented that he is a liberal Democrat who thinks an opinion from the slightly more moderate viewpoint may influence others who could be on the anti-tax side of the equation (math analogy for the esteemed professor).  The sum of the facts adds up to the need for the bonding.

This is the first bond request from our property owners since 1972 when slightly less than $600,000 was bonded to build the swimming pools at Holmes and Peet. 

The high school was a great building in 1953. However the three additions over the years have not kept up with the needs of teachers, staff, and most importantly the students we now educate.  “It was good enough for me and my kids” is  frustrating feedback from those who have not been in the building or who have not kept up with the ever-changing needs in education.  The science labs are antiquated and are the originals from 64 years ago.  This does not serve and will not serve future sciences.  The technology, industrial arts, and automotive departments are beyond renovation.  The flow and navigation of the building halls are impossible to renovate.  There are 19 doors and entries into the building.  In this day of safety and vigilance against intrusion, this is a huge concern.
The large expansion of special education and advanced placement class rooms, dual enrollment classes and courses offered with Hawkeye Community College and UNI have caused a space and room challenge.  These are a few of the reasons that this antiquated facility is paramount in the bond referendum.

Even more urgent are the elementary needs.  There are 5 sections of kindergarten at Southdale for a total of 97 students.  An additional 96 preschoolers started there this week.  Orchard Hill has 450 students in a structure built for 300.  There are 6 outside portables in use (also a definite safety concern).  Elementary schools of this size are not conducive to meeting the individual needs of each student.

North Cedar is certainly in need of this bond income to invest into the new cafeteria/gymnasium and classrooms.   We need to provide the technology and educational opportunities at North Cedar that we have invested into Hansen, Lincoln, Cedar Heights, and Southdale.

It is time to pay forward to ensure young people now and in the future will have the opportunities that were provided to us.  After our 3 children graduated, I never thought I would have more children in the school system.  Now we have 2 grandchildren plus a toddler in our schools.  It is time to provide for the future in Cedar Falls.

Tour these schools and the needs will be glaring.  Vote and help others to also support and pay forward on Sept. 9.
Jim Kenyon

These were my two important takeaways from this post.  
(1) Dr. Kenyon called me "esteemed"
(2) This is not a Republican / Democrat issue.  This is not a Liberal / Conservative issue.  Despite out-of-town consultants' cookie-cutter divisive advice, this is about Cedar Falls, and how best to prepare our children to succeed in what looks to be a tight, competitive, future economy.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Answers (III)

(Disclaimer: The following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: .)

Let's answer the question that, for some people, is the only one.

How much will my property taxes go up if the bond passes?

Straightforward question. Straightforward answer:

If the bond passes, your property taxes will not automatically rise to the maximum amount approved by the voters. The $118 million the Cedar Falls School District is asking for is an upper limit. Let’s say your home is worth $300,000. You’ll be adding no more than $55 a month to your property tax bill. Most years it will be less. If your house is worth $100,000, you’ll be adding no more than $18 per month, and again, most years, less. The school board FAQ answers this question in more detail - that FAQ is the official word.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Some answers (II)

I was having a drink with a friend who often disagrees with me on things political.  We like each other a lot, and respect each other a lot, and so that's fine.  I know that sometimes I am right, and sometimes he is wrong, and it's all good.  If he could be persuaded to run for office, I'd vote for him.

Anyway, he brought up a really good point when we were having that drink, and I'm making it the subject of today's post.

(Disclaimer: The following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: .)

The current High School used to have 1500 students. Why do we need more room now than we did 40 years ago? 

Things aren’t the same as they were back in the day.  For example, Special Education wasn’t “a thing” 40 years ago. Since then Special Education has been become mandatory and that added staff and, of course, space needs.  If you are in the high school, ask to see visit the rooms in the basement.  There are also more classes offered, including over twenty Hawkeye Community College classes taught at the high school. There are computer labs, AP courses, vocational courses which take up extra space but give students direct career training.  The days when "school" meant a bunch of rooms with over 30 kids in each room seated in rows are over.  The economy is different. The world is different.  And we need to prepare our students to compete in the new economy, and to win.  

So, because both education has changed, and legal requirements have changed, space is used differently now.  One of the greatest things about the new location is that it will enable the high school to grow and change if it has to - it is not landlocked like the old location.  Believe me, this question, and many others, were asked and discussed before the recommendation was made!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Some answers (I)

While there already is a disclaimer on this page, I feel compelled to point out that the following is my own take on things, and I am not speaking for anyone else. I'm posting as a person, not as a member of the school board. This blog is for my feelings about the school board, not necessarily representing them. This is me, not CFSD. Got it?

The official word on all things bond related is here: . In the words of Board Director Leeper: "There's an extensive FAQ section (being updated frequently) that addresses questions about the bond, as well as a 'Your Voice' section where you can send comments/questions to our superintendent and communications director. Our facilities committee and district leadership have worked hard over the past several years to assure the facility recommendation came from a very deliberate, studied and inclusive process. Please don't allow misinformation and rumor to impact your decision. If you have questions or concerns, be proactive and reach out to a school board member or our superintendent (Dr. Andy Pattee). "

Why not just remodel the current High School?

Over the past year we have been talking to the people of Cedar Falls, in conversation, at community meetings, and through surveys, about what they believe we need in a high school. We’ve talked amongst ourselves and spoken with teachers, educators, administrators, and parents about the issues with the current building and potentials for renovation and remodeling vs. building new. It’s true, we have list of things we need to have in a high school to offer the children of Cedar Falls the best opportunities and chances for success available in our world today. The list includes things such as a safe environment, enough room to learn using both traditional and new learning tools, room for staff and students to comfortably move about the building without too much pressure to hurry, spaces for extra-curricular activities and outdoor learning experiences, and room to grow (again!) in the future if need be. 

Let’s talk about the current building.

The current building is about 60 years old. It’s been renovated and added onto multiple times already. Because of these previous renovations the current high school is a maze, difficult to get from Point A to Point B, and has many security issues with open access to doorways throughout the campus allowing people to come and go freely without notice. Two stories tall, the current high school sits on 17.5 acres of land, surrounded by private homes, with limited parking and inadequate facilities for extra-curricular and outdoor activities. There is, simply put, no room to grow. 

Now let’s talk a bit about a new building.

With 50 acres of land there will not only be plenty of room for future growth, but also room for parking for both students and staff, and outdoor space for on-site facilities for those extra-curricular and outdoor activities mentioned earlier. A new building would have planned space for not only enough classrooms, but also hallway passing space, facilities made for new technologies (such as the 3D printer the high school currently has, laboratories, all sorts of things needed for today's work environment), the additional power and wiring needed for a secure and reliable computer-friendly environment for all students (they all have laptops now!), and other on-site facilities that help provide a well-rounded, safe, and varied educational experience.

All options were seriously considered and costed out.  Input from experts and the community at large was sought after and used in making the plan.  This recommendation was not made lightly.

More tomorrow.


Credit where it's due: Laurel is my favorite writer in the world to work with, and she contributed to this post.
If she had also contributed to this footnote, it would be more direct, better worded, or eliminated entirely.