Valuable public servants

By 10 a.m. Friday the Storm Lake parks system along the lake’s north shore was spic-and-span. This after 25,000 or so people trampled and trashed the parks on the Fourth of July. All hands from the parks department were on deck at 7 a.m. the morning after picking up trash from King’s Pointe to Scout Park. They even cleaned up most of the stuff left on private lawns across the street from Lakeshore Drive.

We understand that a tip of the hat should go to Dave Janning, who helps oversee the parks crew under the direction of City Infrastructure Director Pat Kelly, who has always been one of our heroes.

The parks look great no matter the season. It is a credit to the City of Storm Lake.

We watched the crew of law enforcement personnel from throughout Northwest Iowa searching in a nearly impossible situation to find the body of a man who drowned Thursday night. Officers from the county and city were on hand around the clock for the better part of three days. Emergency divers dropped whatever they were doing and responded to Storm Lake when we needed them.

But we hear that we have too much government and it costs too much.

This is what government does. It provides parks with a bandshell. It cleans the parks before you roll out of bed. It provides firefighters on standby during the fireworks. The fire chief never clocks out. If a biker rolls on the Ride-Run, a cop is right there with an ambulance and paramedics if need be.

What government does was all on display over the weekend.

It is on display at 3 a.m. when the snow plows roll out after a blizzard. Or when the sheriff rolls up to an injured person in an auto accident. Or when the cops find your kid’s stolen bike.

Remember that when public employees are attacked. Remember the guys who picked up your garbage on July 5. Remember Major Doug Simon or Fire Chief Mike Jones in their vigil for a dead man. Remember it when you are ready to complain about your property taxes. You couldn’t even stage a proper art fair in the park without these people few see. Their ranks are thinning, their pay barely keeps pace. But there they are, public employees working hard at it for your benefit.

Few of us would want to walk a mile in their shoes, such as when the sheriff was run over in a blizzard while rescuing stranded motorists. Paid too much? Too much sick leave? Too much collective bargaining power? Sometimes we don’t realize how good we have it.

 

Managing the managers

If you really want to make government leaner, start with this: The Des Moines public school system this week named a “director of high schools” at a salary of $128,000. Of course, the hired person comes from Texas and most recently was principal of a middle school. In the old days, you would hire a superintendent who would be the “director of high schools” if the principals were not doing their jobs.

That salary could hire more than four teacher aides in the Storm Lake school system to teach immigrants English, or to tutor math and science students.

Nothing in the latest education reform plan calls for more teacher aides at a higher pay scale. It talks a lot about dumping more responsibility for veteran teachers. It calls them “mentors.” Veteran teachers always have mentored younger teachers.

We have too many queens and not enough worker bees.

Former Des Moines Superintendent Nancy Sebring had enough time to email steamy messages to her lover, when she should have been consulting the principals at Hoover and North. We have tiny rural school districts with full-time superintendents and a principal in each building. We probably could get by with two or three superintendents per county. Pride is a fun exercise when you spend someone else’s money.

Storm Lake has been able to lift test scores among difficult students by first teaching them to read using teacher aides, volunteers and families. Entire service clubs have volunteered to sit and read to elementary students. Surprise! It works!

Nobody at the University of Northern Iowa did that. Jason Glass, Iowa’s education director who touted reform, did not bring it up. (Once he got the reform bill passed he split Iowa for the West Coast.) We should budget schools to stay a touch ahead of inflation, hire more aides and teachers, and flatten out the management hierarchy in public schools. Instead, it appears that we are heading the opposite direction with more testing, more management and no mention of the importance of teachers and their  aides in achieving results.

Iowa became successful in education with a homogeneous group of students and a highly localized, decentralized school system. We cannot control homogeneity, but we can control management largesse.