Iowa House District 84 candidates discuss education with school board

Iowa House District 84 candidates met with the Mt. Pleasant school board during a work session on Monday, Oct. 22, for a legislative advocacy meeting ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Candidates Jason Moats (D) and Joe Mitchell (R) discussed with the school board everything from the Secure Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) sales tax to declining enrollment, meeting the needs of students with behavioral disorders and health insurance for educators.

District 84 includes Henry County and rural Washington, Jefferson and Lee counties.

This are just a few of Moats’ and Mitchell’s responses to questions posed by Superintendent John Henriksen Monday:

Sunset on SAVE

SAVE was approved by the Legislature in 2008 and gave school districts one penny from sales tax money to go toward improving school facilities and technology. It is set to expire in 2029. Currently, there is a bill in the House that would extend the sunset on SAVE from 2029 to 2050.

Mitchell: I support continuing SAVE. I don’t think we should just totally get rid of sunset, I think we should renew it for another 20 years after 2029. I think any time you don’t sunset it, it doesn’t make sense why we wouldn’t relook at it (and) see if we can make it better.

Moats: I support the SAVE myself. We can all agree a lot of these schools are getting older and needing more things fixed on them. The price of living keeps going up. Cost of contractors coming into do the work continues to rise.

Declining enrollment

In the last decade, 75 percent of school districts in Iowa have seen declining enrollment, the majority of which is happening in rural areas. In districts like the Mt. Pleasant Community School District, administration is searching for answers to slow that trend.

Moats: There’s a lot of jobs right now in this area that are lacking the experienced (workers) to come work with them. I think if we put the proper funding toward our education system, once they get these juniors and seniors out of high school, we give them an opportunity to look at these open positions and train them for those positions. I think that would keep some people here. Another topic on that is minimum wage. We’ve been sitting at $7.50 for some time now. All the states around us have a higher minimum wage … we’re not keeping up with the times and people are moving out to get better pay.

Mitchell: The school aid formula is biased toward urban schools. I think some programs we could implement are maybe some industrial-tech programs. When I was in high school, I was in power mechanics. We also partnered with SCC (Southeastern Community College), so students could get their welding certificate in high school and go out there and get a job that pays $75,000. Investing in dual-credit programs, specifically industrial-tech programs would be a very good thing to do. Also having that partnership with businesses in town for seniors to have internships would do a lot of things for our education system.

Resources for disruptive students

One of the most significant challenges facing school districts is increased disruptive behavior of some students. The Mt. Pleasant Community School District has invested over $10,000 for the 2018-2019 school year to serve these students and better understand their needs. How can the Legislature work to address the needs of these students and the classrooms they affect and the additional pressures they put on the system?

Mitchell: Number one is collaborate with AEA to figure out a way to get some of these kids who have very bad mental health problems into a regionalized center to figure out their problems. Number two, getting more guidance counselors in our schools. Here, there’s 650 kids for one guidance counselor. I think there’s supposed to be a guidance counselor for every 250 kids. That’s going to be a number one objective of mine.

Moats: Start investing in our schools. Getting more staff in our schools, deal with the counselor and social work aspect of it. That many kids for one counselor is unacceptable. They probably feel like they’re chasing their tail all day long. They just can’t catch up. The ones who are actually starving are the kids. We need to give the tools to the school system and resources to be able to take care of that.