- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Mar. 17, 2016

Proud of our Panthers

College basketball fans across the state couldn’t have asked for a more insane agenda. They’re amped - and understandably so - that all three of Iowa’s regent universities are participants in this year’s version of March Madness.


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In one of the crazier stats of the season, three college basketball teams visited the state of Iowa ranked No. 1 this season. All three left with a loss. Each one of our three representatives in this year’s tourney accomplished that feat.

On Nov. 21, the University of Northern Iowa beat North Carolina 71-67. On Dec. 29, Iowa defeated Michigan State 83-70; and on Jan. 18, the Iowa State Cyclones took down Oklahoma 82-77. So, coming into March Madness, we pretty much already know anything can happen in this game.



The Cedar Valley, of course, is particularly proud of the Panthers.

In addition to the big win over North Carolina earlier in the season, UNI also knocked off Iowa State, which was ranked No. 4 at the time. However, they endured a bit of a tailspin after that, and at one juncture, stood at 10-11 overall and 2-6 in Missouri Valley Conference play.

It’s how they reacted to that low point that impresses us.

They turned it around with a 12-1 finish, winning the MVC tournament in St. Louis by beating No. 1 seed Wichita State in the semifinals, then winning the title matchup 56-54 over Evansville on a last-second shot by senior Wes Washpun.

That’s a pretty good lead-in to UNI’s seventh NCAA tournament trip since 2004. It’s also the second consecutive appearance in March Madness for the Panthers. A year ago, UNI earned a five seed and beat No. 12 Wyoming, before being eliminated in the next round by fourth-seeded Louisville.

Seeded 11th in the West Region, UNI takes on No. 6 seed Texas tomorrow night in Oklahoma City in first round action.

Kudos go out to the UNI women’s basketball team as well. The Panthers captured the MVC regular season championship, before losing in the conference tournament title game. They won 22 games this season and will be playing in the WNIT, beginning with a first round game against Nebraska tonight.

It’s a season in which UNI Coach Tanya Warren was named the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year.

And that’s not all. Five Panther wrestlers qualified for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, which began today in New York. It all adds up to an active March for UNI.

Congratulations to these athletes and coaches. We hope their hard work takes them deep into their respective tournaments. They’ve given Cedar Valley sports fans another great year already.

Mason City Globe Gazette. Mar. 16, 2016

St. Ansgar case needed more transparency

We found some uncomfortable, if not outright disturbing, aspects to the incident in St. Ansgar involving six high school students.

Globe Gazette reporter Molly Montag, in an extensive report, outlined what officials believe happened and the reaction by parents, law enforcement and school officials. No one knows what will result from the incident in the district’s future handling of such situations - there apparently has been little if any discussion to that regard - but we do believe the way this incident was handled should lead to definite improvement.

The incident in question took place Sept. 22 in a school hallway. A police report written by St. Ansgar Police Chief Lance Schutjer describes video footage of boys tackling another student and striking him in a hallway while a volleyball game was going on. One of the boys attempted to stick his finger into the boy’s rectum through the boy’s clothing.

St. Ansgar Superintendent Jody Gray said the district contacted Schutjer the same day the videos were found in an attempt to be as transparent as possible and avoid allegations of favoritism or insinuations that the district was hiding something, Montag wrote.

“We basically wanted impartial people to come in and look at what it was,” Gray said.

Reaction to the handling of the incident differed. Violence experts we contacted said school officials did the right thing by calling police.

Parents of the boys accused of committing the acts dispute the characterization of the video and question why the incident wasn’t handled through the school’s discipline policy.

It’s clear this was a serious situation - one that, had it been carried further, could have caused physical injury or mental distress to the student.

According to Montag’s report, Iowa Code describes hazing as forced activity which endangers the physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation or admission into, or affiliation with, any organization in connection with a school, college or university.

The anti-hazing website, hazingprevention.org, expands the definition to anything done to members of a group or team, new or not, that causes embarrassment, ridicule or emotional harm.

So given the circumstances, the district was right to contact law enforcement. But the problem is compounded by the possibility of conflict of interest, given Chief Schutjer is on the district’s payroll as the softball coach.

We saw nothing to cause us to doubt Schutjer’s professionalism in this or any other case. But for parents and others looking in at this situation from the outside, and with scant information provided parents by the district, we could certainly understand any concerns they raised.

We think it would have been advisable for the chief and district to approach the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office or another local law enforcement agency to conduct the investigation. That would have eliminated the possibility of any perceived conflict of interest. Parents might still not have felt good about the way the case was being handled but would have had one less element to worry about.

As it was, County Attorney Mark Walk reviewed the case and said while the behavior was inappropriate he felt it wasn’t perceived as serious enough by the recipient to warrant criminal assault charges.

So here’s where it stands now. Parents have said their sons take responsibility for their actions - something hard to deny because of the video - but still don’t believe they victimized others. They say school officials didn’t tell them what their sons had done wrong and had to hire attorneys to even get a look at the videos.

“When your teenage son completely and honestly believes that the actions in question with his friends were not wrong, this whole process has raised more questions than answers,” the statement said.

It didn’t need to be that way. Despite their claims of wanting to be open with the parents, the district could have done more. Parents, for example, never should have had to retain legal counsel to view the videos. And the police-chief softball coach shouldn’t have been the main investigator.

We hope no more such incidents occur - in St. Ansgar or anywhere else. If anything can be learned from this it’s that such behavior is wrong, no matter how you label it.

Also, that officials and parents can’t communicate enough when such incidents occur. Some misunderstanding and even mustrust can be avoided as the investigation proceeds and, if needed, discipline is handed down.

This has no doubt been a tough situation to stomach - the school, the parents, students, law enforcement and the community in general. Hopefully, much has been learned - mainly more transparency is always better.

Quad-City Times. Mar. 17, 2016

Excuses won’t fix Iowa’s broken school funding

Another year, another lap around the block for Iowa House’s can-kicking parade.

Feckless Republican lawmakers refuse to address the inherent inequality in the state’s school funding model. They’re “studying” the problem, House Republicans parrot. It will take “multiple sessions” to address the issue, they disingenuously protest, as the frustration grows in the community. Tell both sides of the story, Rep. Ross Paustian said in Wednesday’s Quad-City Times.

Davenport is just missing out on about $3 million a year. It’s just getting shorted by a couple dozen teachers, a mountain of new computers or a bolstered arts program. Its high school students will graduate without the amenities enjoyed by other districts on the winning end of the state-centralized unfairness that Des Moines levels on school districts.

What’s the rush?

Shameful.

Here’s the real story, Rep. Paustian: Students, faculty and residents within Davenport Community School District are reminded daily of their second-class status. It’s an objective fact. And, frankly, the Iowa Legislature has spent years debating, ducking and ignoring the issue.

You’ve already had those “multiple sessions.” And you’ve done nothing.

Those “multiple sessions” included legislation by Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, that would permit districts to plug the short-term gap with reserve funds. Thede again introduced her bill this year. And, once again, it went nowhere. House Republicans killed it, arguing that, down the road, property taxes would spike once the rainy-day funds were spent.

Yet another hollow excuse from lawmakers uninterested in pumping much-needed cash into public education. Even if just a Band-Aid, Thede’s pitch would have provided many schools with the money needed right now. And, just maybe, the coming reckoning when the reserves run out would finally force action from a legislature that’s spent years punting on the problem.

Iowa spends almost $1,000 less on each K-12 student than the national average. And the state ranks in the lower third in per-pupil spending among the states, says the Urban Education Network of Iowa. State aid — as a proportionate of total spending — dipped over the past several years. Local taxpayers are tasked with picking up the slack. Yet, the state’s disdain for local control limits districts’ ability to raise taxes.

Schools are trapped, held captive by state government unwilling to submit to home rule.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, by routing some funds designated for school construction projects toward water quality issues, is a non-starter in the Democratic Senate. Both issues are real. Both require cash. Both require independent funding streams to properly serve Iowans.

So, here we are. Davenport Superintendent Art Tate is ready to break the law and enact the very budgetary maneuver that Thede hoped to legalize. State education officials declined comment on the potential repercussions Tate’s potential insubordination. But it’s a very real possibility that Tate’s career could be over once the district starts spending down its reserves.

The Branstad administration will have to act unless it’s prepared for a wave of copy cats. Tate’s civil disobedience is symptomatic of boiling frustration with Iowa’s busted school funding model.

House Republicans need more time, they say. They are studying the issue, they pledge. They are concerned about a funding system that creates have and have-not districts, they contend.

But the House majority has spent years ducking the issue. They have sidestepped hard decisions for political expediency. They have proven that electioneering outstrips public education.

All the bluster to the contrary coming from the House is nothing but lip service.

Sioux City Journal. Mar. 17, 2016

Legislature should create 24/7 Program in Iowa

Because we view it as a proven winner in multiple ways in South Dakota, we wish to see creation of a 24/7 Sobriety Program in Iowa.

Disappointingly, it appears that won’t happen this year. A bill to introduce 24/7 in Iowa passed the Senate, but because it didn’t at least pass out of a committee in the House by the Legislature’s second “funnel” on March 11, it’s unlikely to receive further consideration during this session.

The goal of 24/7 is sobriety for alcohol-related offenders, 24 hours per day and seven days per week, resulting in reduced recidivism among those offenders.

The program in South Dakota - begun in 2005 - monitors abstinence from alcohol and drug use by convicted alcohol-related offenders, who are approved for enrollment in 24/7 by a judge, through a variety of tests conducted every 12 hours as an alternative to incarceration. Participants are required to cover the costs of their tests. If an offender fails or skips a test, he or she faces punishment, likely jail.

A study of South Dakota’s 24/7 Program from 2005 to 2010 by the nonprofit RAND Corp. research organization produced these findings: More than 17,000 alcohol-related offenders participated. The pass rate for 3.7 million breathalyzer tests administered to offenders under the program during those years was more than 99 percent. Repeat DUI arrests at the county level declined by 12 percent.

In other words, this self-sustaining program promotes abstention from alcohol in effective fashion and reduces alcohol-related crime.

A valuable byproduct of 24/7 is reduced jail population, something of particular importance here in Woodbury County where the jail is near capacity. In a March 10 guest Opinion column supportive of 24/7, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeremy Taylor said the Woodbury County Jail houses between 25 and 35 alcohol-related offenders on any given day.

Frankly, we see no negatives to creation of 24/7 for interested Iowa counties. We encourage the Legislature to find a way of pushing this innovative program to passage during this year’s session.

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