As the debate continues on over how to best improve Iowa’s schools, school districts and school buildings are closing down. Cedar Rapids residents are fighting to try and keep Polk Elementary School open after the district recommended it be closed to save $500,000.

Larry Sigel is a financial consultant for Iowa schools, and says Polk is par of a bigger economic problem that has seen 11 school districts in the state close in the last two years. “It’s symptomatic that school districts are simply our of options at that point, for controlling their own destiny any longer,” Sigel says.

For schools, it’s a financial one-two punch — their enrollment is declining and the state is also slashing aid. Sigelman says the knock-out blow is rising costs for staff salaries, health insurance, even the gas for the school bus that costs more.

“ Right at the time when expectations are the highest for change and doing things differently, unfortunately, many schools are between the proverbial rock and hard place, just having to economize wherever they possibly can,” according to Sigel. Sigel says there are bright spots in all this doom and gloom.

Fewer school buildings mean districts can focus their facilities money – so kids have a better shot of going to a school that’s not falling down around them. And all this penny-pinching means rural schools look at high-tech alternatives, like one-to-one laptops or online classes, which might develop 21st century skills.