The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 26, 2013

Board presses legislators with concerns, questions

By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — School start dates, mental health cuts and student funding top the list of the Clinton School Board’s legislative concerns, members on Monday told two area lawmakers.

School board members aired some of their concerns to Iowa Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, and Iowa Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, during the school board meeting Monday.

School Board member Gregg Obren, who is also the Recreation Director for the city of Clinton, told Wolfe and Hart the district is closely monitoring the school start date discussion.

Iowa law requires school districts start school no earlier than the week of Sept. 1, unless that date will have a negative impact on students, but a majority of the state’s 348 districts receive waivers from the Department of Education to start early.

Clinton students went back to class Aug. 15. School districts are required to have 180 days of class with a minimum of 5 1/2 hour days.

The State Board of Education this year rejected a rule change that would have prevented school districts from starting too early. The state legislature did not take action on the item last year, but has been lobbied by tourism and other groups that would like schools to have to abide by the law.

“I’m a big believer in local control,” Hart said. “I think that as an educational issue, the answer really should be an educational issue. We should not be determining school start dates on tourism or other issues other than is it good for kids. That’s the bottom line.”

The strain the mental health redesign has put on the school district and what can be done to alleviate some of the problems also was discussed.

Part of the problem, school officials said, is that districts have less resources and more mental health problems they didn’t face before the mental health redesign took effect.

“We just have more and more children who have mental problems,” Superintendent Deb Olson said. “The children in our educational settings that have mental problems, we have to try to provide for them and we are drowning right now with trying to figure out how to best deal with different children in different situations because we’re not versed in that. We’re versed in educating students.”

Compounding the mental health struggles further is the lack of services in Clinton, member Eric Gettes said, and the in-need population’s inability to travel to places such as the Quad-Cities or Iowa City for care.

Also on school board members minds was the issue of school funding.

“It seems like property poor districts like our’s is not on a level playing field,” Gettes said.

This fiscal year the district, along with all others across the state, is receiving $6,001 per student from the state for funding. However, districts with a smaller pool to draw from for tax revenue end up with smaller budgets.

“The issue comes though, $10 in Polk County goes much farther than $10 in Clinton,” Olson said.

Olson suggested the funding formula for districts should take into account the English as a second language, transient and impoverished populations.

Wolfe said there is a caucus that is working to address the issue, but the question of fairness among counties presents a problem.

The first day of the session for the Iowa Legislature is Jan. 13.