Randy Evans's blog

An expensive lesson for DM school taxpayers

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the Covid pandemic.

Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.

His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.

But you would be wrong, wrong and wrong.

Here’s another place we need more transparency

There has been a lot of talk lately about why Iowa’s K-12 school districts need to be more transparent, and more accessible and more accountable, to parents and the rest of the tax-paying people of Iowa.

That is the justification offered for a bulging backpack full of bills introduced in the Legislature this year.

But lawmakers should not stop with their push for improved transparency in schools.

Lawmakers’ mixed message is puzzling Iowans

I’m confused, and I have a hunch I am not the only one. Are government mandates a bad thing — or are they good?

My confusion comes because I hear what leaders in the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds have said for months. It certainly seems as if, to a person, they agree mandates are bad.

The governor often talks about how she believes Iowans will “do the right thing” when it comes to Covid vaccines and wearing masks. She talks about the importance of defending people’s rights and liberties. She is confident Iowans will act appropriately.

Iowa school debate needs a lesson in civics

A seat at the table.

Iowa Majority Leader Jack Whitver provided that succinct explanation last week of what his fellow Republicans are looking to provide to Iowa parents as the state’s K-12 school districts wrestle with a host of controversies.

His colleague, Senate President Jake Chapman, set the tone a few weeks ago for addressing these controversies in this year’s session of the Iowa Legislature. Chapman accused some teachers of having a “sinister agenda” toward their students and vowed to push for a law that would make it a felony for teachers and school librarians to provide students with books that Chapman and some parents believe are obscene.

State gov't may be harming Iowa population growth

I stumbled across a statistical tidbit the other day that probably will surprise many people.

U.S. Census Bureau figures show that between 1900 and 2000, the state that grew the least in population, on a percentage basis, was Iowa.

Read that again.

No state had smaller population growth between 1900 and 2000, as a percentage, than Iowa. Not North Dakota. Not Montana. Not Wyoming. Not any other state.

Senate change won’t better inform Iowans

Typically, in the days leading up to the start of a new session of the Iowa Legislature, the attention is on lawmakers’ goals and priorities — and on the pledges they make to work together for the good of the people of Iowa.

This year, however, Republican leaders who control the Iowa Senate announced a controversial decision that erases more than a century of openness — evicting journalists from the floor of the Senate chamber.

This ill-conceived action makes Iowa an outlier among the legislatures in the 50 states. You could count on one hand those that do not allow journalists on the floor of their legislative chambers.

Nowhere in their decision do Senate leaders pretend this change will better inform the people of Iowa about the important work the Senate does.

Justice in Iowa vs. Minnesota justice

Minnesota and its government officials delivered an important lesson recently on how to provide justice — and their lesson should be taken to heart by their neighbors in Iowa.

The contrast is jarring between the way government handled the deaths of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., and Autumn Steele in Burlington, Iowa. One was shot to death while trying to evade arrest. The other was the unintended victim of a fatal shooting.

Iowans should be uncomfortable with the questions that grow naturally out of these contrasts. We should be embarrassed by the starkly different ways government in the two states treated the people responsible for these deaths, police officer Kimberly Potter and police officer Jesse Hill.

Those ‘good neighbor deeds’ can recharge us

When I walked out the door at the Des Moines Register for the final time on Dec. 12, 2014, there was an unfinished piece of work tucked away in a box of assorted stuff I carried.

The folder contained a few dozen newspaper clippings, press releases and notes to myself I had collected.

There was a common thread in all of this: They dealt with events across Iowa to raise money or provide other assistance for people in times of need.

I had hoped for several years to travel to a few of these events and then weave all of this raw material into a column for the front of the Sunday Register opinion section that I edited. But retirement caught up with me.

Our political system has withered since Dole’s days

The death Sunday of Robert Dole was a potent reminder of what we have lost as a nation.

Another member of the Greatest Generation has left us — another of those Depression-era kids who came together to save democracy in the dark days of World War II.

The career of the 98-year-old Kansas Republican reminds us how diminished our nation’s political system has become in the past 25 years. Far fewer supposed leaders are willing to put their nation ahead of their political party.

Of course, Bob Dole was no shrinking violet when it came to politics. He did not shy away from a bare-knuckles fight. He could use a sharp-tongue and sarcasm to cut down an adversary, whether it was a Democrat — or a Republican.

Libraries should be for all, not just for some

There’s a big birthday coming up in Iowa in about a month.

This place we call home — these 55,800 square miles of farm fields, wooded land, and clusters of housing and commerce — joined the Union 175 years ago on Dec. 28.

This should be cause for a celebration. But it probably won’t be. We have difficulty agreeing on much of anything these days, it seems — including libraries.

The spotlight was on them last week during a committee meeting in the Johnston School District. The topic was whether two novels for teens, “The Hate U Give” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” should be available in the Johnston High School library for students to read. The school is the third largest in Iowa, with about 1,725 kids.

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