Asleep at the switch

BY ART CULLEN

After the cold wave of Gov. Branstad’s $8.7 million budget cut for Iowa community colleges splashed us in the face, portending tuition and property tax increases, it was a relief on Saturday to be reminded that Rep. Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia, has his hand on the rudder. Huseman is a senior appropriator in the House and declared to us that there is “no way” the House will support a 23% budget cut to community colleges. He should find a friend in House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who certainly values North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City as a former trustee.

Not so much with the newest legislator from Iowa Central Community College’s nine-county district. Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, has said nothing of the governor’s recommendation — at least nothing the public is privy to. Kraayenbrink, who co-chairs the education appropriation subcommittee, refused at the panel’s meeting last Wednesday to discuss the budget. “I see no reason to discuss (these cuts) in this committee,” Kraayenbrink said in response to a question from the ranking Democrat.

Again, this is the education appropriations subcommittee. If Kraayenbrink can’t launch a defense of Iowa Central there, don’t expect one.

And that’s a big problem for the community college that serves Storm Lake and Buena Vista County.

Iowa Central is not doing its homework in Fort Dodge.

It failed to carry Webster County in a $29 million bond issue, almost all of which would be spent in Fort Dodge.

Kraayenbrink doesn’t even bother to say “Ouch” when Iowa Central gets whacked this hard.

That means Fort Dodge doesn’t care.

Storm Lake is the second-largest service territory for the college. We are doing our part. Our legislators are one board: Huseman, Worthan and Segebart.

Where is Kraayenbrink? Still honeymooming after two years from a campaign that drove out Iowa Central graduate Daryl Beall, an old friend of Huseman’s.

Fort Dodge is asleep.

So it was more than 125 years ago when the Presbytery started thinking about moving the new college in Fort Dodge to someplace with a more sober atmosphere — Storm Lake. Fort Dodge slept. Storm Lake is now the home to Buena Vista University, with a satellite center in Fort Dodge.

You don’t know what you’ve lost ’til it’s gone.

Kraayenbrink is going his own way while the taxpayers and students of Iowa Central’s district are about to suffer. President Dan Kinney suggests that a 13% tuition increase is needed, but that will probably be offset by a property tax increase if the governor’s budget goes through. Either way, we lose. And Fort Dodge loses. It loses new students. It loses improvements to the campus. As the college is diminished, so is Fort Dodge. If the college cannot support industrial training, which gets more expensive by the day, manufacturers will locate in Minnesota with a much stronger vo-tech regimen.

Beall understood how important Iowa Central is to the nine-county region.

The Iowa Central Board of Trustees needs to call in Kraayenbrink and Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, and ask them precisely what they can do with the Republican leadership to build the college, not weaken it. The Fort Dodge business community needs to make it clear that Kraayenbrink simply cannot dodge the issue at committee hearings. Either he is for Iowa Central or he is for the cuts. If Fort Dodge can’t demand his support, eventually the community will not be able to support a full-service community college. The home to the college is asleep again.

A first step

The key to progress is communication. Because the Laurens-Marathon and Pocahontas school boards kept communicating, they have agreed to a five-year high-school sharing pact that serves students while keeping options open. Eventually, Laurens-Marathon should merge so Pocahontas County has unified, efficient and strong school district. This deal helps the neighbors get to know each other better and see how trends play out.

Public hearings this week could determine whether the boards can make the deal final. There is understandable reservation among the Laurens-Marathon board members, including President Matt Tate. The public should be able to see that rural enrollments are declining rapidly. Many students already are open-enrolling out of L-M. The district not so long ago was in a fiscal crisis that sharing with Pocahontas helps solve. Take the next step forward. Approve this short-term, limited sharing deal that preserves elementary and middle school operations in each district. See how it works. If the students and parents hate it, if the educators think it is shorting high school students, the boards can call the whole thing off.

A unified county district ultimately is the answer, as it should be in Sac, Ida and Calhoun counties as well. This agreement helps district patrons prepare for the inevitable.