FURTHER UPDATE Sept. 25, 2023: Cedar Rapids School Board Secretary Ryan Rydstrom said the deadline to accept petition challenges for the school bond referendum is now 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28. He did not say why there is a discrepancy with the information from the Auditor’s Office, but noted that attorneys for the School Board said the date is this Thursday.
UPDATE Sept. 25, 2023: The deadline for contesting petition signatures is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26. School Board Secretary Ryan Rydstrom had said the deadline is Wednesday, Sept. 27, but according to the Linn County Auditor’s Office, detailed, written objections must be presented to Rydstrom by 5 p.m. this Tuesday.
©Cindy Hadish/Homegrown Iowan
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cedar Rapids Community School District announced Thursday, Sept. 21, that it had received enough petition signatures to place its $220 million bond issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The Linn County Auditor’s Office, which administers the election, does not review school petitions, so it’s up to the School District to police the signature count for its own district-backed plan, and up to the public to trust that process.
Signatures for other petitions, such as for Cedar Rapids School Board candidates, are posted on the auditor’s website for the public to view, and objections can be raised in the case of anomalies.
The petition is a public record, but despite a request by School Board member Dexter Merschbrock to post the documents online to increase transparency, the board decided against it, and even stated they could only be examined through an open records request, a process that can be lengthy and time-consuming.
Only eligible voters in the Cedar Rapids Community School District were supposed to sign the petition, which includes portions of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Palo and Robins. Some residents of those areas live within the College Community or Linn-Mar districts, however, and it is unknown if addresses on the petition were compared to the district boundaries.
District Superintendent Tawana Grover said during Thursday’s special school board meeting that anyone who wanted to see the district do something differently with the petitions could consult their own “legal team.”
The School District stated it received 7,624 signatures of 6,319 needed to put the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, but just 6,909 were accepted, due to missing addresses and other issues.
Anyone wishing to contest the results would need to object to at least 1,106 signatures for incomplete addresses, duplicate signatures, those living outside of the school district or other anomalies to invalidate the petition. A panel would review the objections.
For about seven weeks, the School District had pushed signature gathering through emails, offering the petitions to sign at every school, at sports events, “drive-through” centers at its high schools and having teachers and other staff canvass neighborhoods for signatures. Requests to provide the same resources for a petition to save Harrison Elementary School were denied.
On Friday, Cedar Rapids School Board Secretary Ryan Rydstrom told people requesting to see the petition signatures that they would be unavailable until Monday; a point of contention, given that only five business days are allowed to lodge an objection, should anyone choose to do so.
Something apparently changed, however, as he sent a message after business hours Friday, saying paper copies would be available that night.
Homegrown Iowan obtained copies on Saturday and scanned them to make them available to the public.
Though the School Board met to pass its resolution on Thursday, Sept. 21, the petitions were actually received on Wednesday, Sept. 20, giving anyone who has an objection only until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26, to take their complaint to Rydstrom.