OTTUMWA — The school board received an anticipated presentation on the possibility of a new elementary school, but did not vote to move ahead.
“I would like to amend the agenda to not vote on the elementary [school] tonight,” Jeff Bittner said.
Bittner’s objection was not to the school itself or the proposal, but rather to the amount of time board members have had to digest information. “This is basically the first presentation we have had,” he said.
The board agreed with Bittner, and delayed the vote. But the proposal remains before the board. Several people spoke against the idea during the meeting’s public comments.
Becky Engle said she found the arguments included in a preview of the presentation for the board unconvincing. She said the push for constant updates doesn’t leave time for districts to learn whether trends actually work.
“In my opinion, the ‘21st century classroom’ is a buzzword and a fad,” she said, comparing it to the open classroom approach that quickly fell out of favor.
Kooiker said there are decisions that need to be made, but urged people not to dismiss the work done out of hand.
“This committee has worked really hard to make the best decision for Ottumwa students,” she said. The committee’s recommendation was unanimous.
Board member Mike Dalbey said the process that led to the recommendation has lasted 10 months. It’s not a rushed decision, he said.
“There are five seats that will be up for election in November,” he said.
Bittner voiced appreciation for the committee’s work, but said he cannot support such a major step with the information he currently has. Board and committee member Bill Allen asked what more he needed.
“What do you want to know that you don’t know now?” Bill Allen asked.
“I don’t know what I don’t know, Bill,” Bittner replied.
Board member Michael Carpenter said there are a lot of unanswered questions for the board to make a commitment. “We just don’t know anything about it. I’m very uncomfortable about that,” he said.
Gary Granneman warned the situation risked devolving into a repeat of previous, divisive debates. To him, the question came down to whether the district needs a new building. If it does, the pieces will come into focus. If not, the debate isn’t needed.
The facilities committee gave its answer. Whether the school board ultimately agrees is yet to be seen.