As a continuation of the information provided in my letter to the editor early June, I said I would further share with the GR school district's constituents regarding the prior often used concept of conferring with past board leadership and school board members on critical and/or potentially controversial topics. As a refresher, I served on the Gladbrook and GR school board 18 of the 20 years before my retirement from the board in September 2013. Many others in the communities have also graciously given of their time and talent to help oversee the GR school district. In the past, current board presidents often conferred with other former board presidents or trusted board members. If you have never served as a school board president at GR or anywhere else, you just can't explain the confidential information that goes with the job and decisions you face with the superintendent. If in doubt, ask Ted Hamer as he and I had numerous conversations as we traded sitting in the board chair. It was an honor and privilege that neither of us took lightly and we each worked through many transitions through the changing times at GR with declining enrollment. Enough background.
I recently attended the dissolution committee public input meeting held on August 4th in the GR High School auditorium that received a beautiful upgrade and makeover under then GR school board president Kelly Dinsdale. Kelly had an intense passion for making GR great and stepped up and made it happen in numerous areas. There was plenty of opportunity to speak and ask question of the dissolution committee but I remained silent as I thought Ann Boyer as chair had done a very good job of completing the task prescribed for them by Iowa Code and given to them by the GR school board. The public input portion of the evening agenda concluded in about 30 minutes of the allowed 60 minutes and then an agenda prescribed 15-minute recess was called before the rest of the meeting was to continue with some short business and housekeeping items to be taken care of. I saw no reason to stay any longer and left the auditorium and headed out to leave when a member of the dissolution committee, asked if she could talk to me. I said sure so we chatted in the hallway. She started the conversation by saying she wasn't good at beating around the bush and so asked if I thought if the dissolution proposal didn't pass when brought to a vote, if the 2 communities of Gladbrook and Reinbeck could be brought back together. After a brief hesitation, and as I too don't beat around the bush very well, I said I really doubted it as it was not a flesh wound that the Gladbrook community had felt when the Gladbrook campus was closed. I said I would be willing to try but it would be pretty tough as the marriage was over and pretty hard to salvage. She said she was disappointed to hear that and I said I know and let me share something else that was disappointing.
As one of my last duties on the GR school board I was part of the process to hire Tim Kuehl's replacement superintendent Shawn Holloway who started at GR July 1, 2013, before I retired from the GR board in September 2013. At that time, Tim Kuehl and I both felt that GR was in good financial shape. Matt Wyatt was just finishing his first term as GR school board president. When the new school budgeting software was introduced by Gary Sinclair from the Iowa State School Board Association in the October/November 2014 timeframe and supposedly showed a financial crisis ahead for GR, I contacted Shawn in early January as they were beginning to digest the information and suggested that he may need some help in sorting out the numbers and potential solutions. He agreed and was extremely receptive to the idea. I said let me talk to a few former board members and see what they say. At that point I contacted 3 other former school board members, 2 of which were previously mentioned and asked if they would be willing to brainstorm on the situation and then maybe provide some guidance to the GR school board. They were all agreeable and so we met for a 3-hour lunch to talk through some options and also talk through the political nature of the situation for the two communities which was bigger than the possible options themselves. We came away from that lunch conversation with no golden solutions but we all knew that the solution needed to be well thought out and be as acceptable to as many as possible. The four of us former GR school board members had all been at the board table when it was voted unanimously to consolidate the fifth grade sections and move the fifth grade to the Gladbrook campus and a couple years later when it was voted unanimously to consolidate the third and fourth grade sections and move them all to the elementary building in Reinbeck. I actually made that motion to move kids out of Gladbrook to Reinbeck. I took a little heat but it was an easy decision to justify and it was accepted without any loss of students. This group of former board members had worked together for many, many years and there was not one vote that went down zip code lines while we were on the board. Not one time. We trusted each other and respected each other.
Back to my discussion with Shawn Holloway after the lunch meeting, I said we would be willing to help the board brain storm, come up with options and a game plan to share and sell it to the communities as we had previously done many times. We had a combined over 40 years of GR school board experience. Shawn thought it sounded like a great game plan but needed to check with GR school board president Matt Wyatt, in his second year as president. Shawn got back to me in a week or so and said Matt Wyatt had said, point blank, I don't need any of their help and I don't want any of their help. With that being said, I let the other three former board members know how Matt was going to handle the situation and that was the beginning of the end of GR as it was just a few years ago. It didn't have to be this way, but that is how president Matt Wyatt set the stage.
She said she had not heard that information and that is why I am sharing it now with both communities.
After that happened, over the next few months I talked with and sent detailed emails to each one of the board members about ideas I had on an equitable solution to keep GR GReat but that went nowhere either. They had the votes to do whatever they wanted and proceeded to do it.
One of the other topics Suzie Peterson and I discussed in our hallway chat was the viability of GR going forward without dissolution passing. On this topic, we couldn't agree as I said GR as it is cannot survive more than 3 additional years after this upcoming year. She disagrees with that analysis but I have seen the current projections as prepared by Gary Sinclair and presented to the GR school board in April or May. It isn't pretty, but I will share that budget info in my next writing. If you doubt my analysis, ask new GR Superintendent David Hill how he thinks GR financially stability looks. It is my understanding he made comments to a few in the auditorium after the meeting based on a question asked by Carl Cheeseman who was at the meeting. As I was not there to hear what David Hill said, I will not try to paraphrase it but you might ask David or Carl when you see either of them.
With the proposed dissolution concept, everyone wins and survives to live another day, without it the options are minimal and I will share that as well in my next writing when I discuss the projected budget.
In closing, as I said to the member of the dissolution committee member Suzie Peterson the other night, the citizens of the Gladbrook community are not vindictive SOBs, but many would just like their property taxes to follow where the kids have decided to get their education. The open enrollment dollars follow the kids but the property taxes for facilities and upkeep do not.
If you want to discuss any of the above information further, my cell phone number is 641-751-0945.
Mike Bearden, 717 Edgeland Street, Gladbrook