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030518-BETTENDORF-SCHOOL-BOARD-014

Superintendent Michael Raso listens to board members during a meeting at the Bettendorf Community School District Administration Center in March 2018.

Like many Bettendorf parents, Todd Wade has questions about how the 2019-2020 school year is going to go for his child, a Thomas Jefferson Elementary student.

At its Feb. 4 meeting, the Bettendorf School Board approved to lease an existing Ross College building for four months while the new Mark Twain Elementary School is under construction. Back in August, the board voted unanimously to close Thomas Jefferson and to consolidate by sending its students to the new Mark Twain.

“The most frustrating thing for me in that meeting was the clear direction of the board and the administration to explicitly not include the public,” Wade said. “ … That’s probably the most frustrating part of being a parent in the school district.”

The approved “transition plan” to move to Ross for four months was met with concern and anger from parents, some citing a lack of transparency in the process with sending students to the facility at 2119 Kimberly Rd. in Bettendorf.

There was no public discussion of the transition plan before Feb. 4.

Stacey Struck was the only board member who voted against the lease, which will cost $312,000, according to Jerod Engler, vice president of construction at Bush Construction. In all, the plan is expected to cost $359,000.

The district is hoping to answer questions and quell concerns at a meeting Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Bettendorf High School.

“We’ll start out with a quick overview of why we chose Ross College and the other options we had,” superintendent Mike Raso said. “The meeting is intended to help parents understand what their kids are going to go through, with transportation, and what security looks like. … Hopefully it’s just an hour where we can talk about it and answer questions. Maybe there’s something we didn’t think about.”

Wade — who decided with his wife to open-enroll their four children back into Bettendorf after moving to the Pleasant Valley district — said safety concerns were one of his top priorities, especially regarding the number of school exits.

“I’m not trying to imply [the board] didn’t think about it, because I think they probably did, but as a parent, that’s a pretty important thing to consider,” he said.

Beyond safety, there are concerns about the learning environment Ross can offer elementary-aged students.

“I think there’s a lot of work that goes into making [Ross College] a school — a functional school,” Wade said. “The whole idea is so that we’re future-ready, but we’re taking a step backwards. I know it’s only for a short amount of time, but there seems to be some OK with moving backwards before going forwards instead of looking at what it would take to keep us where we are and then move ahead.”

Amy Swearingen, whose children attended Thomas Jefferson Elementary and who describes herself as a “very big advocate” for the district, said parent involvement throughout the consolidation process was important.

“I think it’s important for people to hear it firsthand and get their opinion of it,” she said via phone call. “Hearing it firsthand is the best way to gain an understanding.”

Raso said he hoped the conversation Wednesday night would “stay on track,” and focus on moving forward with the transition plan.

“The conversation that’s happening is about moving forward with the decision. Before, it was a decision that was made between the board, the administration and the construction staff,” he said. “ … I believe where the parents come in is, this is the decision moving forward, how do we get the parents involved at that point? This is the transition, and how do we answer your questions about how this is going to work out for your kid.”

While the decision regarding the lease of Ross has already been made, Wade said he hopes the district is more welcoming of parental input moving forward.

“When you cut out public input, you are cutting out all of the buy-in that parents have in the process, and I think they really need parents to be bought in on this,” he said. “If they want this to be successful, the need us all to come along.”

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