- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

Des Moines Register. November 21, 2016

Iowa schools deserve more say in budgeting and spending.

During the 2016 legislative session, state lawmakers once again failed to meet their self-imposed deadlines on school funding.

By law, they are supposed to set the rate for school funding increases more than a year in advance so local school boards have the time and information necessary to put together a budget. This means legislators should have set the rate for fiscal year 2018 in the first 30 days of their 2016 session. That didn’t happen. As in years past, the lawmakers were late even in setting the rate of funding for the upcoming school year.

For decades, Iowa school officials have complained about the various ways in which the Legislature fails to do its job and, because of that failure, makes it harder for school administrators to do their jobs. At times, lawmakers have acknowledged the problem and promised to do better. In fact, the self-imposed statutory deadline for funding approval is an example of their good intentions. The trouble is, our lawmakers don’t respect that particular law. They ignore it.

So it should come as no surprise that Iowa’s school districts are now bristling over some of the other state-imposed controls on their budgeting process. Among them: the spending earmarks that are designed to ensure Iowa schools use state money only for the specific purposes outlined by the Legislature. This school year, these specially earmarked dollars total $1.1 billion, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

At first glance, it probably seems like a good idea for the Iowa Legislature to exert some control over the way state money is spent at the district level, even though it diminishes local control. But in actual practice, it just doesn’t work.

There are 338 school districts in Iowa, and each has their own particular set of needs. The earmarks have created funding silos - segregated, categorized pools of money that can only be spent for specific purposes, regardless of the districts’ actual needs.

As the Des Moines Register’s Mackenzie Ryan reported last month, Iowa districts are sitting on more than $145 million they haven’t spent. About half of Iowa’s school districts have at least one fund with a balance of more than $50,000, and more than 70 districts have at least one fund with more than $100,000. More than two dozen districts have $1 million in unspent money sitting in categorized accounts.

In Davenport, which has had impose major budget cuts in recent years, the money earmarked for preschool programs is approaching $1 million. The superintendent says the district supports preschool but can’t entice enough families to enroll in the specific type of program allowed by the state. As a result, the money simply piles up.

In the small southeast Iowa district of Harmony, a fund for home-schooling has more than $300,000 sitting in it. But the district served only 11 home-schooled students last year, which means it can’t spend the money fast enough to keep the balance from growing. At the same time, however, Harmony has had to impose deep budget cuts and has eliminated more than a dozen staff positions.

Some have proposed legislation that would let Iowa schools spend 10 to 20 percent of their earmarked dollars however they choose. But that would only solve 10 to 20 percent of the problem.

Why not let school districts petition the Iowa Department of Education for a waiver on the use of earmarked money? For each categorized account that a district hopes to use for other purposes, it could provide evidence as to why the money can’t be used for the designated purpose and should instead be diverted elsewhere.

For that to happen, though, Iowa law would need to be changed - and that means state legislators will have to acknowledge that locally elected school boards deserve a greater say in how students are educated and how state money is spent.

Given the Legislature’s inability to adhere to its own budgetary restrictions, that shouldn’t be asking too much.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. November 22, 2016

Transparency is there, use it.

A schedule for public forums with the four finalists for the University of Northern Iowa president’s job was recently announced, and we encourage all citizens to attend.

The Iowa State Board of Regents had made a promise of conducting a transparent process during this particularsearch, and public forums are a good sign it is happening.

A little background: Trust between the board and state university stakeholders was shaken last year when the regents hired Bruce Harreld as the new president at the University of Iowa. Harreld had a business background as a top executive at IBM and Boston Market with little academic leadership experience.

That prompted a letter from three Iowa lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Jeff Danielson of Cedar Falls, that demanded a transparent process in the search for the next president of UNI. The letter asked for “a process that actually and fully involves the faculty and students in the spirit of shared governance.”

State taxpayers also should pay attention.

In response, Regents President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland sent a proposed timeline and letter to lawmakers, reassuring them the UNI search process would differ from the controversial University of Iowa search.

We’re pleased to see that is apparently the case.

After the regents selected Harreld, the UI Faculty Senate, UI Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government all issued no-confidence votes in the regents. The American Association of University Professors at Iowa State University and UNI issued statements of support for the UI faculty.

Compounding the issue is the fact former UNI President Bill Ruud left the university under somewhat mysterious conditions after just three years at the helm. He took the top job at a much smaller Marietta College in Ohio. Ruud stated his decision had nothing to do with the fact the board had not updated his three-year contract - a detail that fueled speculation he was encouraged to leave. Despite his short tenure at UNI, Ruud seemingly had support among faculty, staff and the public.

Considering the recent past, a little more transparency from the regents is more than welcome.

The candidate forums will be held from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. Nov. 29, Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 in the Old Central Ballroom in Maucker Union on the UNI campus. Each candidate’s curriculum vitae also will be made available 24 hours in advance of their respective visits. They also will be available on the presidential search site.

Following the campus visits, the Board of Regents will meet Dec. 5 and 6 on campus to interview the finalists and select the university’s new president.

This is a search that is definitely being watched closely by faculty and others employed by the university. However, we’d also like to remind all residents of the Cedar Valley thatthey are indeed stakeholders in this decision. UNI has a massive role in theeconomic impact on this region and is involved in many important and beneficial partnerships throughout the Cedar Valley and the state of Iowa.

Remember: Transparency is nice, but it is meaningless if you’re not watching.

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Mason City Globe Gazette. November 25, 2016

Shop, local and enjoy the season.

Now that you have had your fill of turkey, football and, dare we say, company, you may be planning your next few days of leisure.

It’s likely you’ll be doing some shopping, and we hope you shop local, especially on Saturday - Small Business Saturday.

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010 to encourage people across the country to support small, local businesses. The U.S. Senate thought it was such a good idea that it passed a resolution supporting the day in 2011. The day has gathered momentum ever since, and last year 95 million shopped at small businesses, according to American Express and the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.

So, happy shopping. And remember - the dollars you spend locally help fuel our local economy several times over.

Now, if you’re looking for something entertaining, we have a few suggestions to make your weekend merry and bright.

Main Street Mason City and Visit Mason City are partnering to present “Home for the Holiday Lights” beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday with the lighting of the Central Park tree. There will be holiday music, refreshments and a visit by Santa. It’s a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season.

Also in Mason City, the Rotary Cannonball Christmas display begins Nov. 26 with lighting of the vintage steam engine in all of its holiday glory at dusk. There will be refreshment and a food drive for the Harvest Hawkeye Food Bank. The Cannonball is in a beautiful setting with the completion of the terrace work on the north side. Christmas lights will make it all the more special.

In Forest City, the kickoff of “Holiday Tour of Lights” will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 25 at Heritage Park of North Iowa - the first time for the event at this venue. Brightly-lit holiday displays have been constructed through the park and visitors will be able to drive through the park to view them. The display will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 18, then from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 19 through 24.

A favorite regional rock band, Vic Ferrari, returns to the Surf Ballroom Friday. The band, founded in 1988, plays a mix of classic rock from the 1960s to today, and even tosses in a little country.

Look ahead a few days, the Opportunity Village Festival of Trees opens Dec. 1 with the annual Lights On 5K run/walk. The opening night gala is Dec. 2 with the festival continuing through Dec. 4. Many beautiful trees, wreaths and swags will be available for purchase, and there will be family activities - all to benefit the Village.

Also:

. The Mason City Schools’ Jazz Concert will be Nov. 28 featuring Jazz 2.0 from Iowa State University as the guest ensemble. Also performing will be the John Adams Middle School Jazz Band and the high school’s Jazz II and Jazz I. Russ Kramer, director of bands at Mason City High, will be guest soloist.

. The North Iowa Symphony Orchestra presents its fall concert on Nov. 29 featuring the works of Mozart and Haydn. Guest artists are Dennis Lee, conductor and founder of the Una Vocis choir, and Melissa Shallberg, soprano with Una Vocis.

It’s a most wonderful time of the year and we hope you’ll take time to enjoy these and the many special entertainment opportunities in your community.

We’ll see you out and about!

____

Burlington Hawk Eye. November 23, 2016

City gun violence has to stop.

“There’s something happening here.

“What it is ain’t exactly clear.

“There’s a man with a gun over there,

“Telling me I got to beware.”

- From the song “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills

What is and yet is not so clear is what’s happening in Burlington these days. It’s a conundrum that involves dangerous people with guns and no sense of right and wrong who have put the community in mortal danger.

The latest example came yesterday morning. A young black man was mortally wounded by gunfire while driving on a city street in West Hill, a residential neighborhood only blocks from the downtown business district. The wounded driver crashed his SUV into a parked car and died at the scene. Who killed him and why was not clear. Police - and a reporter and photographer from this newspaper - were collecting information at the shooting scene around mid-morning Tuesday when someone, undeterred by the heavy police presence, fired 8 to 10 shots at a house a block away. One stray bullet entered a home and went through the TV. The occupants were not hurt.

Late Tuesday, police were working on the assumption the second shooting may have been an act of retaliation. A wounded man later showed up at Great River Medical Center for treatment.

The two shootings kept city police and Des Moines County Sheriff’s deputies hustling all day. It must be said police handled themselves with professionalism during what can best be described as a crisis situation.

Prudence dictated that city schools lock down their buildings and campuses until the extent of any threat to public safety could be alleviated.

Two weeks ago, an occupied house in the same neighborhood was peppered with bullets when as many as four gunmen presumably retaliated for another shooting earlier in the evening that wounded a woman as she drove through a South Hill neighborhood.

Shootings now occur with a frightening frequency throughout the city. Day and night. Most of the shootings are presumed to involve groups or individuals settling personal scores, or are rooted in drug deals and turf wars.

Good people citywide are becoming scared, rightly so. Despite the economic development and positive things going on in town, the city’s reputation as a safe, decent place to live and work is at stake.

So far, innocent bystanders have escaped harm. But the odds narrow with each new barrage of gunfire.

This is Burlington, Iowa, after all, not Mosul, Aleppo, or even Chicago. This kind of street violence is not supposed to happen here. It must be stopped.

In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. The widely held assumption is the violence has been imported by criminals from big cities in other states where gangs and murder rule neighborhoods. But the drug trade is an equal opportunity industry; plenty of dealers are home-grown.

Lit by the flash of gunfire, the city’s problem with violence and its effects has become dangerously, unequivocally clear. The solution, unfortunately, remains elusive. But finding one begins at city hall.

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