# School Boards

Federal education grant summons ghost of labor bill past

UPDATE: The Iowa House passed this bill on a party-line vote on Friday, and Culver signed it the same day.

Democratic state legislators are rushing to pass a bill that will allow Iowa to apply for a federal education grant of up to $175 million. The application is due on Tuesday, and Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. day, so Governor Chet Culver needs to be able to sign the bill this weekend.

The Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2033 on Wednesday. Senate Education Committee Chair Becky Schmitz summarized key provisions relating to the “Race to the Top” grant:

Specifically, the legislation before you today will:

   *     Remove the cap and repeal date for charter schools in Iowa.  Currently, Iowa Code has a 20 charter school cap and a repeal date for all charter schools on July 1, 2011.  […]

   *     Allow schools to develop Innovation Zone Schools and Consortiums -This legislation adds innovation zone schools and consortiums to the ways that schools districts can foster innovation in more schools.

Senate Republicans voted against this bill, and House Republicans will do the same when it’s considered today. They want to see Iowa relax current restrictions on who can operate a charter school. Additionally, they argue that it’s unwise to apply for one-time federal funds to support ongoing education expenses. The GOP talking point of choice is to call this bill “Race for the Cash.”

Republicans also claim the bill would shift authority toward “union bosses” because of provisions that are not directly linked to the federal grant application. More on that story is after the jump.

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School board election results thread

Turnout was low in most of Iowa’s school board elections yesterday, but not in Iowa City, where a controversy over a school closure earlier this year helped spark the highest level of voter participation since the 1995 school board races. John Deeth has details and analysis of the results. Many Iowa Democrats will recognize the name of Sarah Swisher, a superdelegate to the DNC who has been Iowa Political Director of the SEIU.

In Des Moines, Margaret Buckton was the only challenger to win one of the four seats up for grabs. As the associate executive director of public policy for the Iowa Association of School Boards, she’s got a lot of relevant experience.

Buckton’s day job is to train school board members and superintendents about how to work with state legislators and advocate for their district, how school finances and budgets work, and how to implement policies such as the new Iowa Core Curriculum, the state’s blueprint for what students should learn while in school.

The three re-elected incumbents in Des Moines were Connie Boesen, Teree Caldwell-Johnson and Patty Link, whom many of you may have seen at Democratic functions. She is married to the campaign consultant Jeff Link.

The Des Moines Register published results for many other central Iowa school districts here. Many Iowa Democrats may know newly-elected West Des Moines school board member Liz Brennan, a Montessori pre-school teacher. Her husband, Scott Brennan, was the previous chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.

Ankeny voters rejected a bond initiative that would have funded a new elementary school and improvements to a different school. Given the rapid population growth in Ankeny during the past decade, it’s hard to see how the school district can avoid overcrowding if they can’t build a new elementary school.

Share any thoughts about education or school board races in this thread.

Atlantic residents are rightly angry about the strip search of five girls that staff conducted after a student said $100 had gone missing.

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Five reasons to vote in today's school board elections

School board elections are being held across Iowa today. Here’s why you should get out and vote.

1. Everyone should support strong educational standards in our schools and competent management of the school district’s affairs, whether or not you have kids in school or will have in the future.

2. Your vote is more likely to make a difference in a low-turnout school board election. Many of these races will be decided by a handful of votes.

You should vote even if your school board election is a snoozer, with only as many registered candidates as seats available. Extremely low turnout creates opportunities for fringe candidates to win seats on write-in campaigns.

3. Your property tax dollars are being spent in the local schools, whether or not you have kids. Homes in a good school district are often worth more than comparable homes in an area with lower-performing schools.

4. School board members vote on some issues that affect the broader economy and quality of life. For instance, property values in established neighborhoods and the ability of many kids to walk to school were harmed when school boards closed Roosevelt Elementary in Ames a few years ago and voted this year to close Roosevelt Elementary in Iowa City.

Iowa school boards will be less constrained in making decisions on school closures going forward. This summer, the Iowa Supreme Court invalidated the Barker rules on school closure procedures that the State Board of Education adopted more than 30 years ago. That ruling simultaneously rejected the lawsuit of parents challenging the Des Moines school board’s decision a few years ago to close several schools. Click here for the Iowa Supreme Court ruling (pdf file).

5. Iowans will have almost no legal recourse against future decisions by school boards, thanks to a law the Iowa legislature adopted during the 2009 session. House File 233 was a below-the-radar bill that unanimously passed both the House and Senate. It changed the rules so that citizens have only ten days (as opposed to the 12 months previously allowed) to file a lawsuit challenging a school board’s decision on disposition of property.

For all practical purposes, it is impossible to find plaintiffs, hire legal counsel, draft arguments and file a complaint in ten days. It’s disappointing that a bill limiting legal checks on a school board’s actions passed with so little public debate. Despite following the news during the legislative session closely, I would never have heard about this bill if not for a panel discussion at the 1000 Friends of Iowa annual meeting in July.

House File 233 makes it all the more important for citizens to choose their school board members wisely. Abuses of power can happen, and there’s no guarantee school boards will always comply with the law. For instance, Spirit Lake school board members “met illegally twice in 2007 and 2008” and were fined by a judge this year. Amazingly, no challengers filed to run against two of the incumbents involved.

If you’re reading this post at work, it should only take you a few minutes to vote on the way home today. Or, if you’re reading this at home, zip out to vote before or after dinner.

Your local newspaper probably has published short bios of the candidates. For those in central Iowa, these nine candidates are seeking four spots on the Des Moines school board, and here’s a list of candidates in other Des Moines-area districts. John Deeth has been covering the Iowa City school board campaign at his blog.

Sometimes it can be hard to figure out what the candidates stand for based on news reports or vague campaign mailings. If you aren’t sure how to vote, ask a friend who has attended a candidate forum or has been following the school board campaign closely. (Teachers and retired teachers can be good sources of information.) Many of my well-informed friends speak highly of Des Moines school board candidate Margaret Buckton, for instance.

Please post any comments about education or school board elections in this thread.

Events coming up this week

There is so much happening this week that I hereby forbid you from complaining that there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

If you can make it to the I-RENEW Energy and Sustainability Expo in Cedar Falls this weekend, I encourage you to go. I have attended the I-Renew expo several times in the past and never been disappointed. There are also great books and progressive advocacy materials (shirts, posters, bumper stickers) available in the exhibitor tent.

I won’t be at the Harkin Steak Fry featuring Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, so I hope someone out there will post a diary with a first-person account of the event.

Please post a comment or send me an e-mail if I’ve left out anything important.

Tuesday, September 9:

School board elections are being held across the state. Get out and vote, even if you don’t have kids in school. We don’t want the religious right taking control of these boards.

From the Iowa Citizen Action Network:

Iowa Citizen Action Network (ICAN) is proud to take a lead role in the “Health Care for America Now” campaign and we hope you will join us and all the coalition partners in Iowa to make our voices heard!

Health Care for America Now is all about raising this very important question in the minds of the public and in decision makers: Do we want a health care system where everyone has responsibility to ensure access for all Americans – individuals, employers, our communities, and our government?  Or do we want to continue with a system that says – “You’re all on your own to deal with insurance companies.”

We’ve been doing just that this summer, and we’re excited to bring this campaign to cities all around Iowa.  




Have you been struggling with your health insurance coverage?  Do you find yourself paying more for less coverage every year?  Have you been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions?  Have you been dropped from your coverage and aren’t sure how to fight back?  Do you have a family member or neighbor who is struggling?

Here’s your chance to let your elected representatives know what you’re going through, and what you think they should do about it.

September 9,

6:30-7:30 PM


515 Douglas Avenue

Ames, IA 50010

One Iowa Campaign Training RSVP

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

AFSCME Council 61, 4230 NW 2nd Avenue, Des Moines

We’re weeks away from what may prove to be the most critical election of our time. Success this November depends on individuals like you making a commitment to get involved. Join us to learn more about what’s at stake and how you fit into the big picture!

One Iowa Coffee House

Today – Tuesday, September 9 – 5:00-6:45pm

Ritual Cafe, 1301 Locust Street, Des Moines

Sandy Vopalka will talk about PFLAG (Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) the importance of this organization and the work being done across the state. PFLAG is a national non-profit organization with over 200,000 members and supporters and over 500 affiliates in the United States. Sandy’s presentation will start at 5:30pm.

Wednesday, September 10:

Democracy for America is holding another session of its famous “Night School,” with a focus on recruiting volunteers. The session begins at 7:30 pm, and you can register by clicking here:


The Iowa Citizen Action Network has scheduled an event to give Iowans a chance to talk about what real economic recovery looks like. September 10, 6:30 pm at the Local 6 UFCW, 15 N 12th Street in Fort Dodge. “We are inviting our Congressional representatives and State and Local Officials to hear from US what we need during this week of Economic Recovery talks.”

Iowa’s Office of Energy Independence invites you to attend the public forum on energy issues in Mount Vernon at Cornell College on Wednesday, September 10, at 6:30 p.m., following a Power Fund Board meeting. The forum will take place in the Hedges Conference Room, 600 First Street SW in Mount Vernon.

Thursday, September 11:

The Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa Book Sale opens at 4 pm at the 4-H building of the State Fairgrounds. The sale runs through Monday, September 15. More details here:


The Organization for Competitive Markets will hold an event the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa to learn how to “Take Back” a fair and open seed marketplace. We’ll gather at the 4H building on the fairgrounds from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. to hear speakers talk about the problem of concentration in the seed industry and what we can do about it. Enjoy engaging discussions with farmers and local politicians, as well as a complimentary dinner from Oak Tree Bar-B-Que. The event is co-chaired by State Representatives Marcie Frevert and Mark Kuhn, and speakers include Iowa State University’s Fred Kirschenmann and past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, George Naylor. Tell your friends! For more information, click here:


One Iowa is organizing a PFLAG Des Moines Re-Launch at 7:00 PM, First Unitarian Church, 1800 Bell Avenue in Des Moines. The Des Moines Metro Area PFLAG will meet to discuss relaunching the chapter. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity. Coffee and refreshments served before the meeting, beginning at 6:30 PM. All are welcome, but confidentiality is required.

Friday, September 12:

From the Iowa City-based Local Foods Connection (http://www.localfoodsconnection.org):

Fundraising event for ZJ Farm



French Dinner at Simone’s Plain & Simple

ZJ Farms Education Programs Fundraiser

Friday, Sept 12, 6:30 p.m.

Susan Jutz of ZJ Farm helped create the idea of Local Foods Connection along with Simone Delaty and Laura Dowd. Local Foods Connection buys vegetables CSA shares from Susan and bread & egg CSA shares from Simone for our clients.

Come enjoy an authentic French dinner in lovely country setting and support the Education Programs at ZJ Farms.  The ZJ Farms Education Programs offer hands-on experience and events that teach young people of all ages that value of land stewardship, nontraditional leadership and nutrition.  Education explorations include milking and petting the farm animals, hunts for vegetable in gardens, work projects to participate in farming experience, lessons on growing food from planting to harvest, leadership and community building training.

Tickets on sale now!

$45 for Slow Food Members/ $50 for non-Slow Food.

Call 621-2484 to reserve a seat.

Saturday, September 13:

From the Polk County Democrats:



On September 13, 2008 at 12:00 PM TO 3:00 PM , there will a community celebration picnic at MLK Park, E. 17th and Garfield (1 block north of University), Des Moines , Iowa.

This will be a time for diverse groups of Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Persons with Disabilities, GaysLesbians, Latinos, Native Americans, Armed Forces Veterans and Young Democrats  to come together with the whole community, celebrating the diversity in our neighborhoods.  Over good food, communication and networking will be done.

The picnic is hosted by the Polk County Democratic Affirmative Action / Diversity Committee.

For more information, call 515-285-1800.


17th Annual I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO

September 13 & 14, 2008

9 to 5 Saturday

10:30 to 4:30 Sunday

At the UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, Cedar Falls, IA

Admission: $10 per day, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships available at the door.

Featuring renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels and sustainable living workshops, exhibits and demonstrations

Cedar Falls, IA – The Iowa Power Fund Board approved a grant to support this year’s I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo. The grant will go towards promoting the event statewide as well as to produce DVDs of 12 of the 70 workshops offered at the event. “The Iowa Renewable Energy Association has proven its annual Expo is the place to be to learn about renewable energy and energy efficiency”, said Michelle Kenyon Brown, I-Renew Executive Director. “The support from the Iowa Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence will enable us to bring in a larger audience, an audience that is growing everyday as energy costs are hitting everyone’s pocketbook.”

The 17th I-Renew Energy & Sustainability EXPO will be held Sept. 13-14, 2008, at the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  The EXPO feature 70 workshops, 80 exhibitors, and demonstrations providing information on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, renewable fuels, and sustainable living.

“The I-Renew Expo is the largest event of this type in Iowa,” says Kara Beauchamp, I-Renew Board President. “This years’ expo will be the biggest and the best we have ever had. Increasing energy prices have generated more interest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The I-Renew Expo is the perfect place for people to get their questions answered while having a great time.”

The EXPO gives the general public, building contractors, installers and others the opportunity to talk directly with Iowa’s energy experts to learn new ways to build greener and live greener using renewable energy.

Demonstrations of solar power, wind power, a hydrogen fuel cell, electric cars, cars that run on alternative fuels, and much more will be at the site in and around the CEEE building. The EXPO runs 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13; and 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14. Admission is $10 per day; however, I-Renew members pay no admission. Memberships are available at the door.

For more information or to register, visit www.irenew.org and click on I-Renew EXPO.

The I-Renew Energy & Sustainability Expo is provided with support from our partners: Iowa Office of Energy Independence, Iowa Energy Center, Alliant Energy’s Second Nature Program, Cedar Falls Utilities, Waverly Light & Power, Frontier Natural Products Coop, Center for Energy & Environmental Education and many more.

Contact: Michelle Kenyon Brown, Director Iowa Renewable Energy Association

(319) 325-2701          michellekbrown@irenew.org

Citizens are organizing a rally against a huge proposed hog lot in Poweshiek County:

Does Poweshiek County want more Factory Hog Farms ? NO!!

Prestage Farms of North Carolina, the nations 5th largest factory hog corporation, has plans to put nearly 5,000 hogs in two buildings near Deep River.

If built, this facility will negatively impact our community by creating odor and air quality problems, harming our areas already poor water quality, creating health risks for neighbors, and reducing property values in our county.

Prestage Farms will take the profits out of our state and leave us with the manure.

Please take the time to join with other concerned citizens from our area at a rally on Saturday, September 13th at 9:45 AM on Highway 21, 5 miles South of Interstate 80, between 470th and 480th Streets.

We want as many people to come out as possible to let the owners of the property know that they need to put the health and well-being of their neighbors before greed, and that residents of this county are against selling our future to out-of-state corporations.

Please call 641-990-2470 for more information.

From 1000 Friends of Iowa:

Dear Friends,

In case you didn’t get a chance to attend the public input meetings on the proposed Northwest 26th Street project/MLK extension and Northeast Polk County Beltway studies, you still have a chance to make your voices heard.

If you did attend the meetings, but didn’t submit written comments, your views still need to be documented for public record. The public meetings and collection of written comments are building the case for approval or disapproval of this project. All are part of the Environmental Impact Statement, a federally required evaluation for projects that have extensive environmental impacts.

The deadline for comments on the proposed alternatives for both projects is on Saturday, September 13. After that date, comments will be compiled and sent to Polk County, the Federal Highway Administration, and other decision-makers. Your comments are like a vote which needs to be counted on the stack of documented opinions that is carried forward in the near future.

To be effective in opposition to projects like these, citizens need to be there each major step of the way. This is one of those steps, and your presence is critical to keeping this current of opposition strong.

Gas prices are soaring along with the costs of road building. Public funds for roads are limited, meaning that not every road project gets funded. If constructed, these two costly projects would take money from much-needed transportation improvements.

You can find more information on these projects, maps, and how to send comments at



Stephanie Weisenbach

1000 Friends of Iowa

From Whiterock Conservancy:

Central Iowa Trail Association invites public to celebrate decade of trail stewardship

Sept. 13 ‘Ales and Trails’ event honors dirt trails at Whiterock Conservancy

Des Moines — Central Iowa Trail Association is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a non-profit trail stewardship and advocacy organization by hosting ‘Ales and Trails’ — a public event at the Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 13.

‘Ales and Trails’ begins at 9 a.m. at Whiterock’s River House with activities including guided trail rides, a hike with Whiterock’s ecologist Elizabeth Hill, canoeing on the Middle Raccoon River and much more. The evening features a party in the storied Heeter Barn with music by Brother Trucker and a beer contest judged by event participants.

“This had been a very rough year for trail-loving Iowans,” said CITA president Ryan Hanser. “CITA has worked hard to repair damage to trails from this summer’s rains. It’s a perfect time to recognize and celebrate our decade of volunteer work that has brought so much enjoyment for cyclists, hikers, birdwatchers and others who appreciate natural trail experiences.”

Registration is required. There is a $20 fee to cover cost of meals and entertainment. Lodging is not included, but options ranging from B&B pampering to primitive campsites can be reserved through the Whiterock Resort. Visit http://www.centraliowatrails.org for details including a schedule of events and online registration.

As an affiliate of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Central Iowa Trail Association (CITA) works with public and private land owners to design, build and maintain sustainable dirt trail for shared recreational use. The all-volunteer organization was incorporated as an Iowa non-profit organization in 1998 and does more than 500 hours of trailwork on public land in central Iowa each year.

“CITA was proud to bring the International Mountain Bicycling Association’s trailbuilding school to Whiterock in 2006,” said Hanser, who is also Iowa’s state representative for the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “Returning to celebrate their progress as an organization is important, too. Whiterock’s commitment to sustainable, natural recreation makes it a perfect venue to celebrate our shared values.”

Whiterock Conservancy is a new land trust created to manage a 5,000 acre conservation land donation from the Garst Family of Coon Rapids. Its nonprofit mission is to research and promote sustainable land management practices; provide low impact public recreation and environmental education; and protect and restore the area’s natural resources, including a 30-mile network of dirt trails. In October 2005, the Coon Rapids-Whiterock area was designated by Governor Vilsack as one of the first three “Iowa Great Places.” The Iowa Legislature recently appropriated $1 million to the Department of Cultural Affairs for supporting Coon Rapids Great Place projects.

Directions to Whiterock: Coon Rapids is located 75 miles NW of Des Moines and 100 miles east of Omaha on Highway 141. The Conservancy land is east of Coon Rapids and south of Highway 141. Visit http://www.whiterockconservanc…  for more information about Whiterock Conservancy.


Ryan Hanser, President

Central Iowa Trail Association


Jeana Feazel, Resort Manager

Whiterock Conservancy

712-684-2697 x112

Sunday, September 14:

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer will headline the 31st Annual Harkin Steak Fry, to be held at the Indianola balloon field. For more details, click here:


Monday, September 15:

Conference Coordinator – Contract Job: Deadline for Application September 15

Iowa Network for Community Agriculture (INCA) is seeking a coordinator for its annual Local Foods Conference to be held in Mason City on February 6 – 7, 2009.  If you are interested, or know of someone who is, then please review the request for proposal on INCA’s website (http://www.growinca.org) and respond by early next week.

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Vote in your local school board election

School board elections are being held across Iowa today. Get out and vote, even if you don’t have kids in school. All property tax payers have an interest in effective management of school district funds, and all citizens should be concerned about the quality of public education.

Some school board races are hotly contested, as in Des Moines where eight candidates, including three incumbents, are seeking three seats.

Other races are boring. The two incumbents on the West Des Moines school board have no challengers on the ballot, but I went to vote for them anyway. I don’t want some stealth candidate from the religious right winning a seat with 50 write-in votes.

If you’re reading this at work, it should only take you a few minutes to vote on the way home today. (As of 10:00 am, just five people had voted in my precinct.) Or, if you’re reading this at home, zip out to vote before or after dinner.

If you’re not happy with the leadership of your local school district, consider throwing your hat in the ring for the next school board election.  

Don't even think about it

It would be a terrible mistake for the Des Moines school board to go down the path outlined in the Des Moines Register on Friday:

Fine print in a new statewide election law gives the Des Moines school board the option to cut short controversial member Jon Narcisse’s three-year term, a move he says would be “an assault against democracy.”


Eric Tabor, chief of staff for the Iowa attorney general’s office, said the Legislature has the authority to alter school board terms. Secretary of State Michael Mauro said there was “absolutely, unequivocally, no intent to put any board member in any district in jeopardy.”

Boards are instructed to consider the number of votes board members received in the last election when they decide how to meet the law’s requirements. Patty Link won 4,021 votes and Narcisse 3,029 in September.


Phil Roeder, spokesman for the district, said a few options would comply with the law:

– Shorten Narcisse’s and Link’s terms by one year, with re-election in 2009.

– Decrease Narcisse’s term and increase Link’s by one year, with re-election in 2009 and 2011, respectively.

– Alter the 2008 election terms so that one or two members are elected to one-year terms; Narcisse and Link would then be up for re-election in 2009 and 2011, respectively, or both in 2011.

I don’t care what the law allows them to do–any solution that appears to favor Link (a well-connected and well-liked white woman) over Narcisse (an outspoken critic of district policies who is also the only African American on the board CORRECTION: Teree Caldwell-Johnson, who is African-American, also serves on the Des Moines school board) would be a disaster.

If the goal is to get Narcisse off the board sooner, I doubt making him into a martyr is going to achieve that. He was elected precisely because of his criticism of past leadership on the school board and in the district administration.

I know people involved in the Save & Support Our Schools organization who strongly backed Narcisse’s candidacy. They felt that too many Des Moines school board members had failed to ask tough questions of superintendent Eric Witherspoon over the years. (The current superintendent, Nancy Sebring, seems to be more responsive to community concerns.)

The school board should find a way to implement this new law without appearing to single out Narcisse for punishment.  

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