Iowa House Sends Education Reform Package To Senate; Chambers Calls It “Transformational”

The Iowa House late Wednesday morning passed a wide-ranging education reform plan that would require yearly evaluations for school teachers, a test for graduating high school seniors and an extra hour of class time each day for kids in state-funded preschool programs. Representative Royd Chambers, a Republican from Sheldon, described it as a “transformational” bill that’s a “blow to the status quo.”

“It does move us away from the industrial model,” Chambers said. “It does move us towards individual learning…One size does not fit all.”

Chambers is a teacher at Sheldon High School when he’s not in the legislature.

Governor Terry Branstad launched an education reform effort last year and has been urging legislators to be “bold, not timid” in making changes in Iowa’s K-12 schools. Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, said in the 12 years Branstad was out of the governor’s office the state launched preschool programs for four-year-olds, a new evaluation process for teachers and tougher course requirements for students.

“We’ve had much discussion since this summer about the state of Iowa education and I’d like to state right here…that Iowa education is not broken,” Steckman said.

Steckman cautioned against change just for the sake of change and urged legislators to enact reforms that will ensure students learn the skills necessary for the job world.

“Unfortunately our ideas that are research based — smaller class sizes, full support of early literacy, teacher collaboration andprofession development and decisions made at the local level by parents, teachers and administrators — were not accepted,” Steckman said.

Representative Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, responded.

“One thing I’m certain of, there’s not a person in this room who is happy with every element in this bill,” Forristall said. “I’m not, but I also know that everyone in this bill has something in this bill that they like and as complex and far-ranging as this bill is, perhaps that’s the best we can expect.”

Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, said the education reform package developed by the House “falls short” in every key area.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to continue the conversations that we’ve had,” Winckler said. “I remain committed to providing an education system that makes a difference in the lives of our students.”

Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, said all legislators — regardless of their party affiliation — have the same goal.

“We all want to allow our students to achieve the maximum potential,” Dolecheck said. “We have some different opinions on how we get there.”

The bill passed the House on a mostly party-line vote of 56 to 43. Representative Tom Shaw of Laurens was one of seven Republicans who voted against the legislation.

“Let’s get to the root issue here,” Shaw said. “We’ve taught young women it’s o.k. to kill your child and the fathers of those children they have no responsibility for it. It’s a free-for-all out there.”

The 53 other Republicans in the House voted for the bill including Representative Jeremy Taylor of Sioux City, who is also a high school teacher.

“This is a bold effort and I don’t care what anybody says, but it’s a thoughtful one,” Taylor said. Taylor, though, cautioned that the bill won’t “change the face of Iowa education” without the involvement of parents.

Story from RadioIowa

Former Sioux County Treasurer’s Employee Facing Theft Charge

A Hull woman, who worked for the Sioux County Treasurer’s Office, was arrested Wednesday on a theft charge. A recent state audit found 39-year-old Wendi Kats of Hull was responsible for missing money totaling $4,252.

She is charged with Second Degree Theft, a Class D Felony.

The criminal charge is the result of an investigation conducted by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the State Auditor’s Office.  The investigation was initiated when it was discovered that funds were missing from the Treasurer’s Office in Sioux County.  According to the State Auditor’s Report, a total of 5 deposits totaling $4,252 in cash and checks were missing between the dates of July 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010. The deposits were for fees due to the Iowa Department of Transportation for issuance of driver’s licenses and non-operator identification cards through the Sioux County Treasurer’s office.

Kats was released from the Sioux County Jail on her own recognizance.

RadioIowa contributed to this report

Opponents Of Internet Poker, Including Senator Feenstra Speak Up

Two of the 20 senators who voted against a bill last night that would legalize internet poker in Iowa chided their colleagues this morning as the senate started its day. Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, was first to bring up the issue.

“I don’t know if any of you on this floor know that Internet gambling currently is illegal,” Zaun said this morning. “It’s illegal in the United States and I can’t believe what we did last night.”

None of the opponents of the bill spoke last night during senate debate of the legislation, which passed with support from 29 senators. Officials estimate the state could collect as much as $13 million more in gambling taxes if the state-licensed casinos start running Internet poker games and Zaun suggests that’s the main motivation for supporters of the bill.

“Are we that desperate for money?” Zaun asked this morning.

Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, was the other gambling critic to speak this morning about the evils of Internet gambling.

“Yesterday, what I heard in the arguments were, you know, we’re doing this, we’re creating protocols to make it safe. We’re making it safe to create online gaming,” Feenstra said. “So, what’s the next step? What about the treadmill that we’re on? Is it o.k. to make prostitution safe?”

Feenstra and Zaun also resurrected complaints about TouchPlay, the Iowa Lottery’s experiment to sell tickets from devices that looked like slot machines. Iowa legislators voted in the spring of 2006 to ban the machines

Fire Risk Down But Still High As Drought Continues; Chiefs Urge Caution With Fire

Fire Department Grass RigWe are still in drought conditions in northwest Iowa, but we have received some recent moisture, so, because we had so many fires last fall, people are wondering what the fire risk is this spring.

Rock Rapids Fire Chief Ed Reck says northwest Iowa isn’t as dry now as last fall, but there is still a fire risk.


Reck says we’re not to the point of issuing a burning ban yet, but people need to remain vigilant.

Reck says if it’s windy or dry, it’s better not to risk it at all.

The drought conditions are causing other concerns as well in parts of northwest Iowa.

Sheldon officials are concerned that if the drought lasts too long, there may not be enough water available to fight a large fire if the water table continues to drop.

All of northwest Iowa except the extreme western edge is in the condition known as “severe drought” according to the US Drought Monitor. Conditions are improving after an inch and a half of rain fell in February, but we could still use another three to six inches of rain to get us back to normal.

New Minnesota 60 Detour Will Add At Least 12 Minutes To Your Trip

If you’re headed for the twin cities or many other destinations in Minnesota on Highway 60, you might want to listen up.

You’re probably aware that the Minnesota Department of Transportation or MnDOT is in the process of gradually upgrading Highway 60 in the Worthington area to a four-lane divided highway.

But the detour that has been in place to allow the work has now been changed — and it’s going to add some extra time and miles to your trip.

The Highway 60 detour has been changed to Nobles County Road 2 (340th Street), County Road 13 and Interstate 90. That will take you about seven miles back WEST on the state line road, and then north to Rushmore. There, you’ll pick up I-90 and take it to Worthington to meet up again with Highway 60. That’s about 27 miles. The old detour was 15 miles. If Highway 60 were open — it would only be 11 miles.

The current Highway 60 detour of County Road 4 and County Road 5 will be closed except to local traffic while crews make pavement repairs. County Roads 4 and 5 will also be restricted to 7 ton per axle load limits during the spring thaw.

The repairs are necessary to preserve the remaining life of the pavement. The detour route was in rough shape from the added traffic over the winter and the most recent early thaw resulted in additional damage. The detour to Rushmore will need to remain in place until repairs are complete. Those are to be made as soon as feasible.

MnDOT’s initial plans did not include using the detour over the winter, but the state government shutdown significantly delayed some of the construction on Highway 60.

Construction on Highway 60 itself will resume as soon as weather permits. In addition to the first and second phases of the project and the railroad bridge replacement, work on the third phase from County Road 35 to I-90 will begin this summer.

Sheldon School Board Looking To Ease Overcrowding At East Elementary

Sheldon’s East Elementary School is fairly bursting at the seams.

East Elementary Principal Tanya Langholdt told the School Board Monday night that the building is “quite tight” with the number of students enrolled, as well as the number of programs that are offered. Langholdt said that for the current school year there are four teachers sharing one full-size classroom, another program that is being forced to use space in the school’s library, another that uses a conference room, and one that is even forced to utilize the school’s entryway.

She said that for the 2012/2013 school year there are 11 programs/staff that still need classroom space, with only two full-size classrooms, one half-size classroom and a room that was designed to be a conference room that are available.

Superintendent Robin Spears told the board that he had done some research into the possibility of installing a portable classroom structure to alleviate the overcrowding issue at East, and found a company that could provide such a structure that would include three 750 square foot classrooms, as well as restroom facilities. He said the structure would cost the District $150,000 for installation, and approximately $30,000 per year for rental of the facility.

Board President Gary Ihnen asked Langholdt if there might be a possibility that the basement of the school building could be put to some kind of use in an attempt to help remedy the overcrowding situation. Langholdt said she wasn’t sure, but that she’d look into it. The Board indicated that they would take up the situation at their upcoming Work Session, which they voted to schedule for March 28th at 6:00 p.m.

In other news, Superintendent Spears advised the Board that there has been a lot of student disciplinary issues on the in-town bus routes. The Superintendent said he intends to ride each route over the next days and explain to the students and their parents that behavior will need to improve or the in-town bus routes will be suspended for a period of time.

The Board also approved three open enrollment applications for a trio of Kindergarten students: one coming into the District from the Boyden-Hull District; one from the MOC-Floyd Valley District; and the third from the Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn District.

They also approved continuation of the sharing agreement with the South O’Brien Schools for the wrestling program, and approved the contracts for a part-time Special Ed Instructor Associate, along with 8 coaching contracts.

The meeting was adjourned shortly before 9:30 Monday evening, at which time the Board entered into a closed session for a strategy session on contract negotiations.