Will the Rebels remain? G-R gears up for historic dissolution vote

At left, a billboard on the western edge of Reinbeck urges voters to save the G-R school district and vote against the proposed dissolution on Tuesday. The closure of the Gladbrook elementary and junior high campus (shown at right) in 2015 has led to a first of its kind referendum generated by a public petition. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photos) 

A late morning drive through Reinbeck indicates a community united in opposition to the proposed dissolution of its school district. Travelers from the west on Highway 175 are greeted with a massive billboard that reads “Save G-R schools, Vote No on September 12,” and yard signs with similar slogans are peppered all over town. On Broad Street, at least eight of them can be found in a stretch of just a few blocks. Sheer population numbers would suggest that the referendum stands little chance of passing.


And yet, deeper questions linger. Why did this ever happen in the first place? What if the roles had been reversed, and Reinbeck had lost its building? If G-R stays intact and enrollment keeps declining, what will leadership do then? If the vote does pass, where will all 103 employees go? Isn’t it a little ironic that a district nicknamed the Rebels is dealing with the southern half of its territory attempting to secede?


The answers aren’t easy, and regardless of the outcome, the bond between the two primary communities—at least among the older generations—may already be irreparably damaged.


“There’s a faction on both sides that will probably never get over what’s going on,” said longtime G-R special education teacher and girls’ basketball coach Bruce Bailey, who counts himself as a “no” voter. “It just takes time to heal. We both have to try and be neighbors and be friends and try to get through it.”


A tale of two cities


Superintendent David Hill, now in his second year with the district, has been perhaps the most outspoken voice against the dissolution for obvious reasons. He’s used the media—in particular, The Reinbeck Courier and his personal blogto present a strong case for keeping G-R the way it is (Gladbrook and Reinbeck first joined together in 1987), and he doesn’t see any reason to make sweeping changes. As of September 1, actual K-12 enrollment was up 26 students from last fall at 463.


“If anyone is saying that it’s a win-win for everyone if this district is dissolved, I think that’s not a very student focused response to that question,” Hill said. “The win-win for Gladbrook would be to keep the G-R schools because if you keep the G-R schools, students that live in Gladbrook have two great options (G-R and GMG).”


Hill, who has lived in Tama County for all but four years of his life and currently resides about 18 miles from his desk in Reinbeck and 12 from his office in Traer (where he also serves as the superintendent at North Tama), watched the Geneseo school building close as a child and knows how it can affect a community. But he doesn’t believe that shutting down G-R entirely due to a perceived slight will help Gladbrook in the long-term.


“It’s unfortunate when any school has to close, frankly, but it’s a reality,” he said. “And that reality that the school board here faced a couple of years ago has helped this school district to make financial progress.” 


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