When a town loses its only school, it hurts. It really hurts. The school district has exhausted its options, and the residents must move on with the new reality as best they can.
Except, in this month-old article from the Northern Sun-Print, in the wake of the closure of the Gladbrook school building, Gladbrook residents have decided to play a game of
Global School District Thermonuclear War and submitted a petition to dissolve Gladbrook-Reinbeck entirely. This is unprecedented. This isn’t cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face; this is amputating at the neck. The closest case of a full K-12 district voluntarily dissolving in the modern era* is Boone Valley of Renwick, which was K-6 for one year as residents were deeply divided on whether Humboldt, Clarion, or another district was the best solution. Gladbrook-Reinbeck, you do not want to be the second coming of Boone Valley.
The petition committee already knows what it wants to do: Attach the old Gladbrook district to Green Mountain-Garwin (!!!) and the old Reinbeck district to Grundy Center, with no further nuance. So North Tama/BCLUW/Hudson could get bupkis while GMG, which has made a living from scratch-off tickets (Marshalltown open enrollment) the past 25 years, could have a winning Powerball ticket dropped in its mailbox.
But would it bring the Gladbrook school back? At best, the answer is “Reply hazy, try again.” The Green Mountain elementary was built in 2002 and district enrollment is down 25% since then. Garwin just put on a wing and second gym thanks to PPEL money and a sizable school surtax — GMG’s rate is 11% while GR’s is 3%, by far the lowest in Tama or Grundy counties. But an influx of, say, 200 students into GMG (GR certified enrollment in Tama County in 2013-14 was 251.1) could allow Gladbrook to hold a few grades. This petition threatens to create long-lasting town-vs.-town resentment over a could. (Plus, has GMG been asked about this? I do not know.)
You only have to look 20 miles and 30 years away — or 20 miles and 10 years away — to understand there is no recourse on a closure. The Iowa Supreme Court, in Keeler v. Iowa State Board of Public Instruction (1983), said that as long as the school board has followed correct procedure and votes to close a building, the effect on a town is subordinate to consideration of the health of the district. In that case, Marshalltown closed the Albion school. The procedure refers to having scheduled, open meetings and “sufficient research, study, and planning,” established by the state in In Re Norman Barker (1977) and reprinted in In Re Closing Montour Elementary Building (2002). No recourse…within a district, anyway.
Should the petition to dissolve Gladbrook-Reinbeck gain any traction, we could see a whole new front open in Iowa’s small-school scramble. As the queen of relationship songs says, Band-Aids don’t fix bullet holes.
*Corwith-Wesley was in whole-grade sharing (thus not an independent K-12 district), Russell was forcibly shut down, and all others were K-6 or K-8 at time of dissolution.