Gladbrook-Reinbeck dissolution debate and the national mood

A week from tonight, the Gladbrook-Reinbeck school board will have a final meeting regarding a petition to dissolve the school district. There will be an opportunity to share opinions, but I think everyone’s mind is pretty much made up. The GR school board is making its opposition known.

The fight has stirred up such hard feelings that nearly a dozen Gladbrook residents who signed the petition to force the vote wouldn’t talk about it to the Waterloo Courier. One who would speak on the record is Gladbrook mayor (and former long-time Tama County supervisor) Keith Sash, who is in favor.

“We used to be pretty well even and we worked together for the betterment of the school, not the betterment of one community,” said Sash, suggesting the balance has “kind of gone out the window. It’s time for a divorce and (getting) a new partner.”

Substitute “country” and “area/group” for “school” and “community” and the quote could be dropped in the national dialogue today. Everyone feels they’ve been done wrong and staying together for the sake of the children (literally or metaphorically) isn’t enough to hold back calls for a clean break.

And I don’t have answers, on either level. Because on the one hand, I feel like I totally understand (and boy howdy do I know where and what I want to yell), and on the other hand, divorce is a catastrophically bad idea but I don’t have any solutions that stop both sides from being convinced that their side is losing. A recent essay originally in the Washington Post said Thomas Jefferson’s “faith that every generation would be a little better than the one before” may “seem naive today” — and yet, it seems to me that was a key component of the American spirit until ten minutes ago, or ten years ago.

Last summer, I explored how Iowa’s small schools, enrollment-wise, are losing a worse-than-zero-sum game. Waukee wins and Gladbrook loses. Ankeny wins and Ainsworth loses. North Liberty wins and Libertyville loses. This isn’t just about schools; it goes far, far beyond that. Those left behind don’t see things getting better and are ready to blow things up because the status quo isn’t working.

Last November, Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Tama County in 30 years, and did so by 20 percentage points.

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