We’re on our own

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

As usual, Storm Lake is on its own since the Iowa Department of Education has punted on guiding local school districts through this pandemic. Our school board — every local school board — should prepare a plan that first requires staff and students to wear protective face covering. The state will not require masks. Local school boards must to stop the spread of virus already running rampant in Buena Vista County.

We do not envy the jobs of superintendents who must develop practical strategies in a vacuum of leadership. Storm Lake, for example, would like to know what the state thinks about operating two days per week with shifts of students attending alternatively. It sounds like it could work academically. But there is no guidance.

Supt. Stacey Cole said parents want school to resume full-tilt in August. That will be difficult, given all the concerns about cleaning and limiting exposure among children and families as much as possible. Storm Lake’s facilities are overcrowded (thanks in part to a lack of state funding) and spacing is a vital concern. The district has moved swiftly to get online learning opportunities into the hands of every student. The pandemic has sped up digital learning for every district in Iowa. That is one good side-effect of what otherwise is a catastrophe.

Each district will have to chart its own course and hope that the state approves the application. That is not how this should work. Storm Lake and every district will have to decide what is safe and practical, and how you keep young people apart. It starts with everyone wearing masks all day every day. Beyond that, parents have their backs against the wall. The boss demands that they come back into work, and we already know that child care here is woefully deficient. There is no easy answer. The state should be ashamed that it has allowed our education and child care system to atrophy to this point. We need real solutions to chronic problems exposed by the pandemic, and superintendents are left to figure it out on their own without state assistance.

We’re on our own, II

We appreciate that Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham has tried to help Storm Lake sort through its issues with the state administration. Durhman understands that little has been done to improve rural housing stock. She told us she would try to get something going through the Iowa Finance Authority. Phone calls and a meeting at city hall haven’t accomplished much yet. For starters, the state could throw in $10 million to a Storm Lake housing trust fund, if there were one. Consider it a payment against a state strategy of ordering people to work in food processing plants even if the coronavirus is rife in the workplace. What does this community get for the sacrifice? What do the workers get? Sixteen bucks an hour with no shot at affordable housing. At least we could offer them a decent place to live. A housing trust fund would show good faith and actually lead directly to a solution: the system says that we subsidize wages with low-income housing. Let’s get about subsidizing it, folks.

The state understood, at one time, that Storm Lake is one of its largest glacial lakes that attracts visitors from a three-state area. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources rebuilt the marina, and a decade later it needs to be refurbished. The state refuses to participate. The docks are falling in. This is not the state putting its best foot forward with visitors. The state insists that this is the city’s responsibility by virtue of a bad operating agreement with a former city administrator. The marina operator, Buoy’s, is at wit’s end. The state could work with the city to install better infrastructure at the marina and solve the problem with $500,000 in capital improvements budget. The spending would be entirely recovered through marine fuel taxes, fishing licenses, and beer taxes. The state is content to let its own property deteriorate. That marina could be a tremendous asset for the community and the state if we could just keep an operator in place, by allowing them to make a buck. You do that by making capital improvements. Everyone makes money. Durham gets it. She said she would try to do something. That something turned into nothing. The marina operator wants the city to cancel its agreement with the state. Then the state could negotiate a new agreement with Buena Vista County that contemplates a future for the marina. This problem needs to get sorted out for the sake of the state, if not a struggling small business. If Buoy’s goes under, the marina will tread water yet again and lose money for everyone involved. We are going backwards. We can move forward with leadership. Durham is trying to provide it, but she is not the governor.

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