Educators to lawmakers: Let us pool resources

A room inside the library at Ekstrand Elementary School is filled with donated shoes, coats and school supplies that have been given to the school district for children in need. Most of the donated shoes came from the family of Geoff and Corrin Blandin, whose children Elizabeth, Isaac and Ethan, organized a 4-H citizenship project last year called Kicks for Kids. The coats and school supplies that are located nearby in the same room were not collected during an official campaign; they came courtesy of spontaneous contributions by parents of students and other community members.

The Central DeWitt Community School Board wants to make sure the state Legislature is on the same page … or at least reading from the same book.

State Sen. Chris Cour-noyer, R-LeClaire, and

Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-Miles, attended the Oct. 7 meeting. 

School board members highlighted a couple of issues that might not be getting the attention they deserve.

AEA studying mental health

 Superintendent Dan Peterson reminded Cournoyer and Mommsen that the district’s No. 1 priority revolves around mental health funding. 

He said the idea of each school district writing proposals and competing against one another for funding seems like an approach that would waste time and invite problems. 

Peterson said the Area Education Agency (AEA) has been studying the issue at length. He said the agency has the ability to overlap any potential territorial limitations that could surface for some state departments, such as Education and Health and Human Services.

He added that the AEA is well-positioned to brainstorm ideas for timely, equitable and adequate funding while also saving some headaches for school districts.

By the same token, he also thinks districts would benefit from enrollment in statewide health care and benefits packages.

“We should work more as a consortium instead of every district working on its own plan,” Peterson said. “Right now, we’re all on our own.”

Other board members joined Peterson in questioning the transparency of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health/Disability Services (MDHS) Region. He noted a recent AEA discussion among educators.

“Not one person could name someone on the board of the Eastern Iowa Mental Health Region,” Peterson said. “We don’t even know who to contact.”

Flawed methodology?

Angela Rheingans, school board member and executive director of the DeWitt Chamber and Development Company, said a school-ranking website that often is cited by online real estate listings is somewhat misleading.

She said Greatschools.com appears to be giving a disproportionate amount of credit to schools that have relatively high numbers of Advanced Placement classes. Rheingans said that this type of emphasis automatically gives urban schools — that have higher demand and flexibility to schedule more AP classes because of a bigger enrollment — the upper hand over rural schools in the rankings.

“Meanwhile, we’ve got students who are earning associate degrees before they graduate from high school,” Peterson said. “But we’ll be graded unfavorably on the number of AP classes and not getting fairly recognized for our achievements.”

On the other hand, a resource that appears to be more equitable in the way that it evaluates schools seemingly is being ignored by real estate websites.

 Rheingans pointed to the Iowa School Report Card as a more appropriate tool for calculating school quality that is not being fully used.