Tough rural school choices

Our empathy is with the Laurens-Marathon School Board as it fords through the tortuous narrows of finding a suitable athletic sharing partner as enrollment continues to decline. It is discussing its options with Sioux Central, Pocahontas Area and even West Bend-Mallard, none of which are ideal mainly because of distance. It’s a long haul from the eastern reaches of the L-M district to Sioux Rapids or Peterson, and it’s even farther for a family from Marathon to caravan to West Bend.

It’s a great opportunity to think of families and children, and what works best for the taxpayers.

The most efficient arrangement: Send BV County students in the L-M district to Sioux Central, send the rest to Pocahontas.

Which begs the question of whether it is time for Laurens-Marathon to consider dissolution or partition. These sorts of discussions have been going on for the better part of 50 years since the Marathon Minutemen did not want to be on the same team as the Albert City-Truesdale Hurricanes for reasons that stymie us today.

Eventually there will be two or three school districts in Buena Vista County: Storm Lake and Sioux Central are survivors, thanks to enrollment trends; each has a growing base of young families. Albert City-Truesdale already shares with Sioux Central and everyone seems to be happy. AC-T shares a superintendent with Newell-Fonda.

Pocahontas County has among the highest depopulation trends in the Midwest. The enrollment base is shrinking rapidly as the county ages and agriculture continues to consolidate. The county probably should have one high school/middle school with feeder elementary schools in viable communities.

Much the same could be said for Sac County. It seems silly that Nemaha and Early, just nine and 12 miles from Storm Lake, respectively, send their high school students to Holstein.

The state cannot force these issues. Many small rural school districts are dying a slow funding death as enrollment erodes. Parents who were graduated from these schools in their hey-days may think they are sustainable in a modern era. They might begin to question it as the costs rise, the bus rides grow longer and districts are unable to muster enough critical mass to keep pace.

It will take some good old Iowa common sense to negotiate new school district arrangements as rural depopulation has hastened every year since 1985.

Parents should encourage school board members to ratchet up their discussions from athletic sharing to what is pragmatic and productive over the next 20 years. Riding a bus from Marathon to West Bend for a middle school football game does not sound pragmatic or productive. Open enrollment is part of the equation, but that only worsens the slow bleed. It is time to come to terms with contemporary realities and cut our losses. Let’s talk consolidation, dissolution, partition or all of them at once.

 

The Ron Paul effect

The effects of the Iowa Caucuses in the Republican Party will be felt when six or more candidates jump into the US Senate race as Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, retires in 2014. The caucuses were stacked by a highly effective Ron Paul campaign that drew out neo-libertarians en masse during the last presidential campaign. These arch-right caucus-goers elected delegates to county GOP conventions, which in turn sent delegates to the state convention to elect a Ron Paul state central committee.

A packed primary next June could result in no clear winner. The nomination could then be thrown to the state convention tilted to a Paul-friendly candidate. Is that Sam Clovis, the Sioux City radio talk jock whose philosophical lode star is Steve King, or could it be David Young, chief of staff to Tea Party lapdog Sen. Chuck Grassley? Or one of the other four or five or 10?

On the left side, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, has a clean ride to the Democratic nomination. He is clearly an acolyte of Harkin’s who stays in the political middle with ardent efforts for military veterans. An accomplished trial lawyer and fundraiser, Braley will defeat a Republican candidate whacked out to the right and standing on a cracked base.

The Iowa Republican Party has veered so far to the right that it ­couldn’t nominate a sensible moderate like Rep. Tom Latham, R-Des Moines, who declined to run possibly for that very reason — a whack job might knock him off in a primary.

Republicans who want a moderate to bear their real values had better vote in the primary or get used to the sound of “Senator Braley of Iowa.”