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Report: Iowa bucking trend in K-12 school funding

Although increases in state aid to K-12 schools has been small, Iowa is bucking the trend of declining public investment in elementary and secondary schools.

State aid to public schools, which is seen as crucial for communities to thrive and the economy to offer broad opportunity, has declined dramatically in a majority of states over the past decade, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Arizona, for example, state funding dropped almost 37 percent.

In Iowa, however, researchers found total state funding per student, adjusted for inflation, increased 20.6 percent from 2008 to 2015. Only North Dakota, Illinois and Alaska had greater increases according to the researchers’ analysis of data from the Census Bureau Public Elementary-Secondary Education 2015 data and National Center for Education Statistics.

However, in the states providing less total school funding per student than in 2008, those cuts have “real and damaging consequences for local school districts because local schools are generally unable to make up for deep cuts in state funds,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the center.

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit and in many states funding has not been restored. In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008, according to the center.

That’s a concern because the nation’s “future depends heavily on the quality of its schools,” according to the authors of the report titled “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.”

“Increasing financial support can help K-12 schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education,” they wrote.

Even in Iowa, where Leachman found funding increases, local schools have not been immune from larger class sizes and staff reductions reported in most states. There are 1.4 million more K-12 students across the country this year than in 2008, but 135,000 fewer teachers and other school staff.

“So it’s problematic that some states have headed sharply in the opposite direction over the last decade,” he said. “These cuts risk undermining schools’ capacity to develop the intelligence and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs.”

In most states, school funding has gradually improved since 2015, but some states that cut very deeply after the recession hit still are providing much less support. As of the current school year, at least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to a survey the center conducted using state budget documents.

This year, the Iowa Legislature approved a 1.1-percent increase, about $40 million. That translates into a per-pupil average of $6,664, an increase of $73.

That increased total state general fund dollars for K-12 education to nearly $3.2 billion, a 3.5 percent increase over the current year, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

When state and local spending is combined, Iowa showed a 4.9-percent increase, 13th highest among the 21 states that posted positive numbers. In Iowa, local property taxes generated through the school aid formula are estimated to be $1.477 billion, an increase of $55.4 million over fiscal 2017.

Arian Schuessler / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

Councilman John Lee reacts as it became apparent there weren't enough votes to pass the Gatehouse downtown development proposal on Nov. 27, 2017.  After an unusual series of events, the City Council voted 5-0 to go with G8 Development over Gatehouse to build the hotel, despite having cast G8 aside twice and having negotiated with Gatehouse for the past several months.  Lee abstained from the vote.

Mason City Council approval of G8 follows emotional meeting

MASON CITY | The Mason City Council's approval Monday night of G8 Development for the downtown hotel project came after a three-hour meeting filled with emotional pleas, podium pounding, two recesses, and in the end, a surprise turn of events.

At one point, Mayor Eric Bookmeyer, who favored the G8 proposal, said, "It is exhausting to hear so many untruths out there, and it has to stop." 

The council deliberated on whether to choose G8 Development or Gatehouse Mason City LLC as the developer. Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson gave a presentation in which he pointed out several areas of savings in the G8 plan and recommended approval of it.

Photos: Mason City council considers competing downtown proposals

The first vote on whether to approve G8 lost by a 4-2 vote with Joshua Masson and Janet Solberg voting in favor and Travis Hickey, John Lee, Paul Adams and Bill Schickel voting against.

When it became apparent that a vote to approve Gatehouse would also lose, Schickel asked that the first vote be brought back to the table for reconsideration.

Schickel said he favored the Gatehouse plan because of its immense public support but thought it was important for one plan to move forward than for both to lose.

The council agreed and voted 5-0 in favor of G8 with Lee abstaining. Lee said he couldn't bring himself to vote in favor of G8 but wanted the vote to be unanimous.

Neither David Rachie of Gatehouse or Philip Chodur returned phone messages for comment Tuesday morning.

At the start of the meeting, Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson outlined both proposals, pointed out how G8's represented more savings for the city, and recommended its approval. He also liked the amount of local involvement in the G8 plan.

Rachie was one of 15 people who spoke at the public forum prior to the vote, most of them in favor of Gatehouse.

"You have supported us unanimously with every vote since spring," Rachie told the council. "The state has told the city that Gatehouse is your developer. You're putting a lot of faith in someone who has never built a hotel."

He was referring to the city's application for up to $10 million in state money through the Iowa Reinvestment Act to leverage a $38 million downtown redevelopment plan. The hotel is a key factor in getting the funding.

Several speakers said when 75 percent of voters approved two public issues on Nov. 7, they thought they were supporting Gatehouse.

"A lot of voters thought this was a done deal," said Joseph DeGraw.

Sandy Servantez agreed. "I'm shocked," she said.

Elizabeth Allison, executive director of The Music Man Square, said the 75 percent vote was a mandate and that changing developers was a "bait and switch."

But O. Jay Tomson, president of First Citizens Bank, said the bank supports the project on the basis of risk evaluation and the amount of local involvement. "We try to be local in Mason City as much as we can," he said.

So far, Henkel Construction, WHKS Engineers, First Citizens Bank and HPI Hospitality all support G8.

Steve Noto, president of HPI Hospitality which operates the Historic Park Inn, said the advantages of going with G8 were obvious. There was far less risk with G8, he said. "I'm done with the antics. This is insane. This is the best deal at the least risk," he said, pounding the podium.

Wayne Allison pointed out that G8 had used Gatehouse's renderings in the proposal it submitted to the city. Steven Van Steenhuyse, director of developmental services, said that was true but was not relevant in comparing bids.

Bookmeyer took the unusual step of injecting his opinion into the council discussion, mentioning the number of "mistruths" being spread.

He said the Gatehouse proposal was not its vision but one that started with the Chamber of Commerce. He said Gatehouse wanted to exclude the Mason City Foundation from the process and had to be talked into it.

Bookmeyer said there is no truth that Gatehouse's corporate office in Dallas is supporting the project. "There's no Texas money in it. Not in this deal. It's a Minnesota LLC," he said.

"There's no security in it. The security they have is the Mason City Chamber Foundation, and they can't cover it," he said. "This project cannot have my support," he said.

Bookmeyer said Tuesday a public hearing is required by state law for Dec. 28 but will have no bearing on Monday's vote.

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Police ID motorcyclist who crashed into bridge, fell into Mason City creek (with photos, video)

MASON CITY | The driver of a motorcycle who crashed into a bridge and fell into Willow Creek in downtown Mason City Monday afternoon has been identified by police. 

David Sappenfield, 64, of Clear Lake was rescued by Mason City Fire and Rescue after the crash. He has been cited for failure to maintain control. 

At about 1:30 p.m. on the northbound Highway 65 bridge, Sappenfield appeared to have veered off the road and crashed his 2002 Harley-Davidson motorcycle into a barrier and bridge guardrails before falling into the water.

The motorcycle sustained an estimated $3,000 in damage, according to Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley. It did not fall into the water with Sappenfield. 

Two firefighters climbed down a ladder to assist Sappenfield, who was able to make his way out of the water and onto the embankment. Mason City Fire Capt. Jared Ogbourne estimated the drop to be about 20 feet and into shallow water.

Sappenfield was strapped to a stretcher pulled up from the creek by the ladder truck. The rescue took about 30 minutes.

Sappenfield was transported from the scene to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa. He was treated and released. 

Photos: Man crashes motorcycle, lands in Willow Creek in Mason City