In the Nov. 5 election, voters in the Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) will choose four of the seven members of the school board.
Incumbent Rafael Jacobo is challenged by Dexter Merschbrock in District 4. There are two open at-large seats and five candidates running: Jen Neumann, Cindy Garlock, Maurice Davis, Janelle Lund and Joseph Miller. David Tominsky is running unopposed in District 1.
Little Village emailed questionnaires to the seven school board candidates in contested races. All the candidates were asked the same set of questions.
Dexter Merschbrock, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, and his wife, Michelle, bought their current home so their two sons would be able to walk to school. Merschbrock’s older son is in fourth grade at Grant Wood Elementary, and his younger son will start kindergarten there next year.
What other public service organizations have you been active with? Have you served in elective office before? What made you interested in becoming active in public service?
This is my first run for public office. I have always been a follower of politics and government issues, but never thought I would run. Currently, I volunteer when I can with the Grant Wood PTA, where my wife, Michelle, is PTA President. I also volunteer with my union’s food drive each year in May.
Why did you choose to run for the school board, rather than some other elected office?
In January 2018, the Cedar Rapids School Board voted for a plan to close down our neighborhood school, along with seven others. At the time, I spoke up against the plan and circulated a petition to delay the vote. The petition was signed by 600 people (in ten days), and talking to people around the city it was clear there was not wide knowledge of the plan, let alone widespread support. More than supporting the plan though, the dismissal of the call for more time and insistence that their plan was popular was a clear sign the Board of Directors was out of touch.
When no other candidates declared to challenge the incumbent who supported the plan, I decided to run to speak out for my neighborhood and all the neighborhoods affected.
What do you see as the biggest long-term issues the district is facing?
The long term issue is the same everywhere in our state and country: education and services for families and children are often inadequate or not affordable. The district should be part of a bigger conversation on caring for and preparing citizens to lead healthy and meaningful lives. Public schools do their best with children from the ages of 5-18. In order for those years to have a lasting impact, K-12 policymakers have to advocate for a system that addresses early childhood care and family needs for new parents. After graduation, college and career training needs to be open to all.
What do you see as the more pressing problems that the district can solve in the short term? What would your approach be to solving these problems?
Right now, the district could address school safety by making a plan to secure entrances of buildings with available funds rather than rushing into tearing down existing schools in favor of shiny new buildings. The district can also improve classroom learning by allocating resources and time for teachers to be trained in restorative practices to address conflicts. Finally, the district can increase pay for paraeducators to help fill the dozens of vacant positions.
What in your personal skill set, or previous experience, would make you an effective member of the school board?
I think it is important for a local elected official to provide leadership, but also to be humble about their role. I have worked with local elected officials on their campaigns before. While most want to do good, the stark reality is that local government is not well understood. So the first step in being a good public servant is to recognize that, even though you have been elected and get to have your meetings publicly broadcast, not very many people are watching.
If you want to get something done, especially something big, every day has to be about building support and trust in local government. Failure to do so can leave you worse off than before you even started.