By Aric Becker, Norway
A little over five years ago, we made the decision to move out of Cedar Rapids (and the Cedar Rapids Community School District) back to my hometown of Norway. The house we bought would’ve easily cost another $70,000-80,000 in or near Cedar Rapids, and the property taxes and utilities were considerably less. We loved the fact that the kids could ride their bikes around town, or go to the park and play with their friends without having to worry or have adult supervision (which is not the case in Cedar Rapids!).
Although I graduated from Norway (and am a Tiger at heart), I was happy to enroll my kids in the Benton Community School District. Although it is a large 3A school (and like any school, has it’s share of problems), the fact that it is made up of several small towns helped make it a large school (that offers several things that smaller schools did/do not) with a small school feel. I love the fact that my kids are able to go out for multiple activities, and that the teachers/coaches work together to help make this possible, which is usually not the case in a much larger school, thus forcing kids to often choose only one or two activities.
I feel that the teachers for the most part genuinely care about the students and are supportive. Although I grew up a Norway Tiger (and always will be!), I am proud to say that we are Benton Bobcats! That being said, after researching in depth the proposed Bond Issue, and attending the Informational meeting in Norway, I must say I disagree that the current proposal is in the best interest of the entire District. Although I believe that the Board (at least for the most part) has good intentions, this proposal is not the best answer to the problems that we face. I acknowledge the fact that our facilities need attention, and that doing nothing is NOT an option. I believe that the two best things one can in invest in are our youth, and real estate.
Although I never want to pay more taxes (I believe taxation is theft!), I know that paying more property taxes is probably the only option to give the schools most of the repairs/updates that they need right now. I also realize that no matter what is proposed, not everyone will be happy, and the demographics of our District are challenging to say the least. With the population growth being shaded towards the Eastern half of the District, IF anything new is to be built I believe it should be built in Newhall, or closer to Atkins. The fact that we currently have a K-3 school in each end of the District, along with a school in the Southern half of the District is a STRENGTH for the District.
Every kid, at least for 3 or 4 years, has a school to attend that’s in close proximity to their house. How close a school is to your property positively affects the value of that property, and vice versa. Therefore, it is also my opinion that closing down the school in Norway and Keystone should not be an option. What it will do to those communities could very well be catastrophic. Property values in those towns would go down, but property taxes (if the Bond passes) would go up. I don’t see how that would be beneficial to the entire District.
When I was in High School in Norway, the population of the town was 790, and had a grocery store, two gas/auto repair stations, three restaurant/bars, a Meat Locker, a barber shop, a hair salon, a veterinary clinic, and a fully functioning grain elevator. After losing our High School, the population today is about 460. There is a Depot Express, and one bar/restaurant and one hair salon.
Since moving to Norway, I have volunteered to help build the community and invest in kids, and have donated my time to do so. I have (and currently serve) as the President of the Norway Recreation Association, the President of the Iowa Valley League Board (which governs the Machine/Coach Pitch, Little League and Pony League Baseball and Softball in the District and beyond), and am a part of the Norway Baseball Association. I volunteer one night a week (and more) to help the youth of our church, have coached the Pony League team in town the last 4 years and helped coach a Bobcat Travel Baseball team in the District for two years as well.
I realize that almost all of the kids in the Iowa Valley League that compete against each other, just like the towns that make up Benton Community, are ultimately all on the same team. To make a decision that will cause some to regress and limit their contributions to the team does not make sense to me. I wish that there were surveys that would’ve been put out BEFORE the proposal was decided on, to find out what is most important to the people of the District.
I also wish an economic study would’ve been done prior to this proposal, such as the past history/potential impacts to similar communities, and the economic demographics of the District population (Median Income, property values, etc.), so that Board truly realizes what the perception of this proposal is to the people that they represent, given the state of our current economy. Being a volunteer myself, I understand the time and commitment that the School Board has put into this, and I applaud and respect their willingness to serve. I also applaud and commend our District Representative, Theresa Ludeking, for her efforts and for standing up for what she believes in.
I believe that THIS IS NOT THE BEST PROPOSAL FOR OUR ENTIRE DISTRICT AT THIS TIME!!! (Although it might be for the people who live in Van Horne). Property taxes in Benton County have already gone up about 25% in the last 2 years combined, when Inflation rates were over 8% in 2022 (and are currently over 6%), interest rates have skyrocketed and 401K’s are down. I would be willing to bet that there are more people that have a vote in this District living paycheck to paycheck than those that do not. There are always multiple ways to solve a problem, and I feel that we are led to believe that this is the only option (WE WANT MORE OPTONS!). If this proposal passes, then there’s nothing I can do, except keep volunteering for our youth and community. If it doesn’t, then I hope the Board, with the feedback they are receiving, will put together a proposal that will best serve the needs of the ENTIRE District, so that we can do what is necessary for our kids, our communities, and each other. GO BOBCATS!