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Education reform package clears legislature, headed to governor’s desk

News

May 9th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

An education reform plan has cleared the legislature. Crafters of the compromise suggest the bill’s focus on literacy in the early elementary grades is the hallmark of the package. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, was the senate’s lead negotiator. “Under the bill we will annually be assessing the reading proficiency of kindergarteners, first graders, second graders and third graders, so that if any kid is falling behind in reading proficiency, we will find out about that as soon as possible,” Quirmbach says. Republican Governor Terry Branstad recommended that all third graders who cannot read at grade level be required to repeat the grade. Legislators have voted instead to give parents two options if their child completes third grade, but cannot read at a third grade level.

“Either the child goes through an intensive summer reading program that summer after third grade or they repeat third grade,” Quirmbach says. “The parent must make that decision.” The threat of having poor readers repeating third grade won’t kick in until the 2016/2017 school year, however. Representative Royd Chambers, a Republican from Sheldon, was the lead negotiator for the House. “It’s not as strong of a reform bill as I would like, but this is what we could come up with,” Chambers says. “But I still believe it’s a very substantive bill.” The bill limits enrollment in the two Iowa school districts that are conducting all classes on the Internet and calls for a study of such on-line academies. It means CAM Schools in Anita and Clayton Ridge in Guttenberg will have no more than nine-hundred students. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, says it gives state policymakers time to review how on-line academies are working, or having difficulties, in other states.

“I am glad we’re putting some limits on on-line learning,” Mascher says. “I was extremely concerned about opening this up in a way that would have allowed many, many students to participate without have the quality control in place.” Legislators also decided against having all 11th graders take the A-C-T and rejected the governor’s call to require all college students seeking a teaching degree maintain a three-point grade average. Republican-led efforts to end the “last hired, first fired” aspect of schoolhouse layoffs were unsuccessful. Governor Branstad has said he wants the 2013 Iowa legislature to tackle teacher pay issues and consider other education reform ideas.

(O. Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)

Atlantic School Board approves 2-yr agreement w/Non-Certified Staff

News

May 9th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

The Atlantic Community School District’s Board of Education Tuesday night, approved a two-year agreement with the District’s Non-Certified Staff, amounting to a 2.5% pay increase for all employees. Superintendent Dr. Michael Amstein said the district would cover the health premium and IPERS increases, and move the vacation day from a half- to a full-day (News Year’s Eve day). The agreement also includes a freeze in the salary schedule, and an advancement for 39 experienced employees only. The Longevity amount range would be increased from 39.5-cents to a more easily calculated 40-cents. The total package increase for the 2012-2013 school year amounts to a little more than 4.52-percent.

For the 2013-2014 School Year, there be a 2.55-percent pay increase for all employees, in addition to covering the costs for mandatory training for any employees who need to be re-certified in certain areas. The total package for 2013-2012 amounts 4.56%, for an average two-year total of 4.54%. Amstein recommended the Board approve the package, because of its similarity to the package the District agreed to, with its Certified Staff.

Amstein says the cost of IPERS increases is not factored in to the 2013-2014 school year contract, because it’s an unknown factor. Only the language in the contract would be renegotiated. If there’s an increase, the employees would have to absord that cost for that year.  Amstein said he thinks it’s a “Very Fair” contract, that helps the District budget for next year and the upcoming year, by knowing what the major costs will be, with 80-percent of the budget being employee salaries. The total dollar amount of the package was not available at last night’s meeting.

In other business, the Atlantic School Board approved the 2011-2012 Certified Budget Amendment, which Business Manager and Board Secretary Mary Beth Fast said wouldn’t exceed the total amount certified earlier this year. The largest expenditures in the amended budget are expected to come in the form of Non-Instructional Programs, such as nutrition and the management fund. Another increase was in the area of Capital Expenditures. Fast says when they certified the budget one-year ago, they didn’t know what the timing of the payments was going to be to the architects and engineers. Now that they do, Fast said they realized they would be over the amount specified in the certified budget. She says she’s “Comfortable with the numbers that have been published…” that the District would stay within its budget. A repercussion of not doing so, she said, would be that it would show up in the Audit report.

Iowa kids will be two-wheeling to school today (Wednesday)

News

May 9th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

Today (Wednesday) is National Bike to School Day, as kids across Iowa and nationwide skip the carpool or the bus and use pedal power. Angela Berry, one of the day’s Midwest coordinators, says it’s a celebration for students and it builds on the popularity of the International Walk to School Day, held in October. Berry says, “Bike to School Day seeks to raise awareness about the need for safe routes to bike and walk and emphasize the importance of such issues as increasing physical activity among children, reducing traffic congestion and protecting the environment.” With the event being tomorrow, Barry says today would be a good time for parents to review bicycle safety tips with their kids — and to map out the best routes to and from school.

“Wearing a helmet, making sure they have the right equipment,” she says. “Choose the safest route. Teach your children proper bicycle hand signals. Use common sense and avoid those strangers. Tell children not to speak to strangers and to ride away if approached.” She says these subtle steps will provide parents with peace of mind and children the confidence they need to be able to bike to school. Barry adds, it also gives kids a chance to have some fun on their way to school and to get in a bit of exercise, too. She says, “Even just 10 to 15 minutes a day of physical activity, low-impact activities like biking and walking, can go a long way toward improving fitness and it’s really fun.” Communities across the country are encouraged to join together and bicycle to school today.

Learn more about Iowa bicycling events at “bikeiowa.com” or “iowagoesbybicycle.com”.

(Matt Kelley/Radio Iowa)

Iowa early News Headlines: Wed., May 9th 2012

News

May 9th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

Here is the latest Iowa news from The Associated Press

IOWA CITY (AP) — State officials have nixed a $2.5 million grant for a firm proposing a technology to make fertilizer from corn cobs at a plant near Menlo. Iowa’s economic development agency said Tuesday that SynGest, Inc. defaulted on its contract by not disclosing in its 2009 application that Chairman Serge Randhava had been sued for racketeering and fraud.

HUXLEY (AP) — A semitrailer hauling pudding cups caught on fire on Interstate 35 in central Iowa. It happened Tuesday in the southbound lanes near the Huxley exit about 8 miles south of Ames. Pudding cups littered the interstate and both southbound lanes were blocked for over an hour as crews cleaned up the scene. Nobody was hurt.

IOWA CITY (AP) — A federal appeals court has held up an earlier ruling that could make it harder for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pursue class-action sexual harassment cases against companies in the Midwest. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 ruling today dismissing most of EEOC’s claims on behalf of female truckers who claimed they were sexually harassed while working for Cedar Rapids-based CRST, Inc.

IOWA CITY (AP) — Lawyers have selected jurors in the trial of the director of an Iowa City neighborhood center charged with failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse for a teacher she oversaw. The Iowa City Press-Citizen says the jury was seated today in the case against Susan Freeman-Murdah in Johnson County District Court. Freeman-Murdah, director of the Broadway Neighborhood Center, was arrested in February.

Iowa axes $2.5M grant for energy firm’s Menlo plant

Ag/Outdoor, News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa officials have canceled a $2.5 million grant for a firm proposing a technology to make fertilizer from corn cobs at a plant near Menlo. A spokeswoman for Iowa’s economic development agency said Tuesday that SynGest, Inc. defaulted on its contract by not disclosing in its 2009 application that Chairman Serge Randhava had been sued for racketeering and fraud.
The agency released a copy of the default notice to The Associated Press, which reported on the lawsuit last month. The case was settled in 2009 along with another lawsuit in which Randhava was part of an investor group that accused others of fraud and racketeering. SynGest answered “no” to a question asking whether there were “any judgments or court actions completed or pending” against officers.  SynGest CEO Jack Oswald says the cancellation “appears to be a knee-jerk reaction” and the company hopes to convince the state to change its mind and resume the grant funding. Randhava declined comment.

Trumpeter Swans Heading to Southwest Iowa

Ag/Outdoor, News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says trumpeter swans will be released at two locations in southwest Iowa on May 10th.  Each release will be preceded by a 20 minute program with an opportunity to view the swans up close. The first swan release will be at Rapp Park, north of Shenandoah, at 9:30 a.m. The second site is the Riverton Wildlife Area Jensen Tract, in Fremont County, with a program at Riverton City Park Pavilion, preceding the release, at 2 p.m. 

Four swans will be released at each site.Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America, weighing up to 32 pounds and with a wing span of up to eight feet.  The swans being released are part of the Iowa DNR’s statewide trumpeter swan restoration effort to restore wild, free-flying swans to Iowa.

BOATERS AT LAKE MANAWA URGED TO USE CAUTION DUE TO LOW WATER CONDITIONS

Ag/Outdoor, News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

 The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is warning boaters at Lake Manawa, that low water conditions are creating navigational challenges. The lake level was more than three feet below full pool as of Monday. The low water conditions can create boating and personal watercraft dangers, not normally encountered when the lake is at normal water level. That includes problems launching vessels, and pull behind activities such as skiing, tubing and wake boarding. Much shallower water  and obstructions normally under water becoming potentially harmful hazards to water sports enthusiasts on the lake.

Susan Stocker, boating safety coordinator of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says boaters and users of personal watercraft are urged to to use extra caution. Stocker says “It is worth the extra time from a safety standpoint to make a trip or two around the lake at slower speeds to get familiar with where potential hazards may be.” Stocker said the unseasonably mild winter and spring have left many water bodies lower than normal.

CAM Middle School Class wins $500 prize

News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

A video produced by a reading class at the CAM Middle School has won a $500 grant award from the Iowa Department of Education. The award presented to Mrs. Venteicher’s reading class was for the second runner-up place in the “Youth in Action Healthy Iowa” contest, created by the Iowa Dept. of Education. 

The class received a flyer in January related to the theme of healthy living, and highlights how students combine school and getting fit. Mrs. Venteicher’s class exercise 20-minutes each class period, and test at the end. As a result, scores have been going up. Students also spend 20-minutes every morning during the week of Iowa assessment testing, hoping that a raised heart rate would improve test scores. 

The CAM Middle School is sending a health message to their students this week.  With the Award Prize won in Mrs. Venteicher’s Reading class, the students are being treated to a new fruit each day, during the last period of the day.  A fitness class was also created for the current school year, by Mrs. Brown, which allowed students to learn and practice fitness activities and eat healthy snacks. 

With the help of HyVee, the students are to gather each day for a social time and a time to eat a fresh fruit that many have not had in a while. That includes watermelon, Athena Canteloupe, Fresh Pineapple, Mangos and Dragon Fruit as well as fresh strawberries.

Hy-Vee is providing the fruit at cost or slightly below cost, and is assisting in the healthy living planning process.

Sedina pre-trial hearing continued until May 21st

News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

A pre-trial hearing for an Atlantic woman facing a serious misdemeanor charge of Invasion of Privacy-Nudity, scheduled to have taken place yesterday (Monday), has instead been continued until May 21st. According to online court records, Judge Jeffrey Larson granted a continuance Monday, in the case of 35-year old Amanda Sedina, who is accused of taking an inappropriate picture of a bathing 78-year old female resident at the Salem Lutheran Home, in Elk Horn. The incident was reported to authorities on March 22nd

Sedina, who was an employee of the nursing home at the time the alleged incident occurred, entered a written plea of Not Guilty to the charge, on April 18th. Her trial is set to take place May 30th, in Shelby County District Court. The woman remains free on $1,000 bond, pending her court case.

Boettger says Iowa Senate’s GOP leader in the hospital

News

May 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

The Republican leader in the Iowa Senate is in the hospital, being treated for a partially perforated bowel — a hole in his intestine. Senator Jerry Behn, of Boone, was elected the Senate’s G-O-P leader this past November. Republican Senator Nancy Boettger, of Harlan, mentioned Behn’s condition during the senate’s opening prayer this morning (Tuesday). “Good morning, Lord…We ask that you would be with and guide, protect and health or friend and colleague Jerry Behn. Give the doctor’s wisdom in how to deal with his malady,” Behn prayed. “We just pray for total and complete healing for him.” Behn, who is 58 years old, farms near Boone. Behn served a year as a Boone County Supervisor before being elected to the state senate in 1996.

(O. Kay Henderson/Radio Iowa)