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Conversation With Constituents

February 16, 2012
by Jane Whitmore , Emmetsburg News

Education, economic development, skilled workforce and a proposed raise in the gas tax were discussed with Iowa Senate President Jack Kibbie and State Representative John Wittneben last Saturday. Kibbie and Wittneben were guest speakers at a Town Hall Meeting hosted by Emmetsburg Chamber of Commerce and Palo Alto County Farm Bureau.

Art Pixler, Superintendent of Schools at Sentral, brought his copy of the Blueprint for Education.

"I don't disagree that all teachers should have an evaluation every year, but in some of the smaller districts I don't know if that's possible," he said. "I don't know how practical that is or how productive it would be."

Kibbie said that the Education Reform bill is 156 pages, currently being studied by a five-member subcommittee and education policy committee.

"All I know is that they're going to highlight what they like and move it forward," said Kibbie. "Most of that stuff takes funding and they only put $17 million in his (the Governor's) budget to fund it. It takes a minimum of $42 (million) a year and another 42 the second year. They plan on taking it out of regular school funding."

"They're going to repurpose it," said Pixler.

"The House budget is $80 million under the Governor's recommendation for education," said Wittneben. "You just read the magic number of $42 million a year."

Economic Development

Emmetsburg Community Developer Steve Heldt asked about economic development.

"The Governor's got $25 million in new money for economic growth and economic development," said Kibbie. "The big hole is not necessarily economic development, but the workforce."

Kibbie noted that all Workforce offices in his district were closed and people are told to go to the library to use the computers.

"What I hear so far, it's been a farce," said Kibbie. "Workforce Development people were in Des Moines last week and they're also upset about it."

Kibbie added that people are concerned about TIF and incentives for economic development, some saying that is the only tool they have. He noted that there are questions about whether some are stretching the use of it.

"There is a TIF bill out of committee," he said. "They're not going to do away with it, but reign it in to what it was originally set up for and to protect other subdivisions when you TIF."

Last In/First Out

Lannie Miller from West Bend asked Kibbie and Wittneben how they feel about "last in, first out" for teachers.

"I don't necessarily like that," said Kibbie. "If the last one in is one of your best teachers, why would that one be the first to go? To plain out and say it up front, is to get rid of the teachers union."

Kibbie said that in 2004-05, the votes were there for merit pay, but it did not happen. He added that is part of the education reform bill, but stated in a different way.

"I think it ought to be just like a business," said Kibbie. "If the last in is the best person you've got, why would you want to get rid of that person. There needs to be a compromise."

Discussion returned to teacher evaluation.

"The whole point of the Blueprint should be how do we educate our children. What's best for them," said Wittneben. "Sometimes what's best or them is improving our teachers. If a teacher is lacking in a certain area, you help that teacher to be better. Then you get teachers working together to become better teachers."

Wittneben brought up another area of the Blueprint, which says at the third grade level of reaching, if a student can't compete he/she will not be passed on.

"Let's not wait until third grade," said Wittneben. "Let's follow them from Kindergarten or first grade and identify those students so when they get to third grade they don't 'hit the wall."

"I liked Sen. Grosetal comment about students who are 'ready' to learn," said Marcie Frevert, former teacher and former state legislator. "Have they (students) been read to since birth??All of the learning to read skills aren't introduced until the end of third grade. Why should we think that they are all proficient in reading at the same time?"

Agriculture &?Education

"There is an exodus of kids leaving the rural areas," said Orlando Gil. "When we look at agriculture and all of the challenges we have in regards to perception, how we view agriculture when less than 2-percent of the jobs available are really related to production. How does this bill address some of these issues?"

Kibbie stated that over the years, when ag prices are good, the ag programs fill fast. Right now, at Iowa State, students are lined up to get in. Then the problem is finding adequate instructors. Schools are limited in what they can pay, compared to industry.

"I've introduced a skilled workforce bill and it's probably going to pass the Senate," said Kibbie. "I don't know about the House."

Gil encourages getting ag education into all classroom levels. Wittneben said he is co-sponsoring a bill to bring agriculture education back into the school.

Fuel Tax

"I'd like to talk about the gas tax -- raise it," said Lanny Miller.

Kibbie said that 90-percent of the committee is pro gas tax. Wittneben agreed.



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