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Iowa News Analysis: July 31, 2008 - Education, Flood Recovery, Candidates

posted on July 25, 2008 at 4:17 PM

Host Paul Yeager and Jeneane Beck of Iowa Public Radio discuss Barack Obama's recent visit to Cedar Rapids, local government response to Iowa flood recovery, and an upcoming Board of Education study on school consolidation.

Paul Yeager: Jeneane, let's first start off with Senator Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee back in Iowa, coming to Cedar Rapids, a little significance why he's back in Cedar Rapids. First of all, what is he doing in town today?

Jeneane Beck: Well, initially he met with Cedar Rapids residents who had suffered flood losses and damage. They met at the Czech and Slovak Museum which had water up to the ceiling. So, he was in a very building that had suffered flood damage and just heard from residents that basically said, hurry up, we want the federal government to act and they are concerned that they are recessing without acting upon billions of dollars in relief and aid for Iowa. They told him to hurry up. He then moved onto Coe College for a town hall meeting on energy. So, as you can see now that he's back from overseas he's really trying to focus on the economic woes Americans and in particular, in this case, Iowans are feeling.

Paul Yeager: And you mentioned how he's talking about flood reasons. He was going to come in June almost when they were at the crest of the flood of the Cedar River there so he had postponed his trip.

Jeneane Beck: At the request of the Governor.

Paul Yeager: Right and obviously returning back to Iowa shows, again, the importance of the state in this presidential race.

Jeneane Beck: And they have both been since their respective nominees, becoming nominees, they're not nominees yet until the conventions but they are presumptive nominees, we're almost there. So, I think it does show that Iowa is expected to be in play in November and they're both spending time here and there's nothing better than a town hall meeting for a politician to sort of get photographed with residents and to look like they really do care about what these residents are saying heading into the election.

Paul Yeager: And it's not just Cedar Rapids that is impacted by the flood, it's an entire state, almost every county has been declared a federal disaster area but the Rebuild Iowa Commission has been very busy, in fact, meeting on Thursday in Cedar Rapids. They are taking tours of some of the areas. Governor Culver, Lieutenant Governor Judge -- Lieutenant Governor Judge has been very busy. Let's update the commission. Are they getting anything done?

Jeneane Beck: Well, I think they're just still in research mode to be perfectly honest. Like you mentioned they are touring some of the flood damaged area, they are hearing from different factions whether it be school groups, whether it be colleges that are saying this is the damage we suffered, homeowners that are asking for assistance, they're still in that data gathering mode. But, again, it comes down to Patty Judge's calling on the federal government to act. She says, look, we would be better off if we knew what we were getting in federal aid. When you look back at the floods of '93 what the state spent in comparison to what the federal government spent to help rebuild and repair was just a tiny, tiny fraction. So, that's why waiting to hear what they're going to get from the federal government is such a big deal.

Paul Yeager: And specifically in Cedar Rapids that's been very frustrating for many residents there because they want to go ahead and bulldoze, they have identified 20 to 40 homes they can knock down tomorrow if they would just get the go ahead.

Jeneane Beck: When you're hearing even from those call hotlines apparently the tenure is raising among people that call, the stress level. They can hear that in the calls that initially people were relieved to be okay, relieved to get out with their loved ones. Now they're starting to feel the stress of the fact that they're not back in their homes, they don't know what's going on, their kids have to go back to school and the stress is starting to show.

Paul Yeager: They're going to be tired of listening posts pretty soon and they're going to want some action. Let's talk about one other thing where we've actually seen some action and that was in the smoking ban. It's about one month in. What is the report? How is Iowa doing?

Jeneane Beck: Well, they have fielded some 1600 phone calls. But really most of those have been questions. People don't know. They call and they say, look, they're smoking right outside the door of the bar, can you make them stop? Well, no we can't because that’s not under the law. Well, they're smoking at the park, can they smoke there? Well, check with your city government because they own that park, they get to say where they can smoke. So, a lot of it has been calls about just questions but there were 57 letters sent out to businesses saying you've had a violation. Two businesses of those 57 face a second letter which means in the next week or two they'll face an unannounced visit from local law enforcement. If the local law enforcement sees an infraction they can ticket them.

Paul Yeager: And that would be the third strike? That's the three strike type rule?

Jeneane Beck: They have not had a strike at all because these letters are just notifying that some citizen called, we have confirmed that we believe there was an infraction but until an enforcement agency sees it, it doesn't count.

Paul Yeager: We'll continue to follow that. It was fun to follow in the legislature. I know you were busy on that one. You're also working on one other story about school consolidation. What is the meaning? And when are they moving forward?

Jeneane Beck: Well, the Board of Education has been meeting and they had requested a study of other states and what are they doing, reorganizing, consolidating as rural areas face declining student enrollment. And what the Department of Education essentially found is that Iowa's policies are fairly in the norm, that we've been sort of hesitant to force consolidation and instead have provided incentives for school districts that share superintendents or business managers or human resources directors. And so they think that they should just let that go for another couple of years and see if that helps these small districts remain in the black. If we get to the point where the state starts looking at forcing some sort of consolidation the Department of Education Director Judy Jeffrey says we might want to do what other states have done and that is set up a non-partisan board that would decide this to try to take the politics out of it because no politician wants to vote to close their school district.

Paul Yeager: No because it's such a community thing and Iowa is very strong about their education and I don't want to consolidate and we've seen fisticuffs in many meetings in the past. So, what's next on that issue? Is it going to be a while?

Jeneane Beck: I think that they just studied it. The department, anyway, didn't want to make any recommendations. They just wanted to hand the materials over to the board, the board will kick it around now and see if they want to make any recommendations to the legislature.


Tags: Barack Obama campaign 2008 Cedar Rapids education Iowa Iowa-storms-08 news


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