November 28, 2015

Board of Education votes to close Farragut School District

The State Board of Education voted to close the Farragut School District.

The State Board of Education voted to close the Farragut School District.

The State Board of Education today voted to dissolve the Farragut Community School District after several years of the district having financial difficulties.

Members of the school board and some parents and students spoke to the state board prior to their vote in hopes of holding off the decision for another year.

Blue Ossian is a 10th grader who got emotional in talking about the importance of the school to the communities of Farragut and Hamburg.

Bue Ossian

Bue Ossian

“I feel like kids, you know kids we say we don’t like school, we hate getting up early, we hate being bused. When it is threatened, I’ve never seen so many students fight for what the whole school is,” Ossian says.

Ossian says the students from both communities have come together in the small towns because of the school. “It’s a big part of our lives, my class, we’ve been together since I don’t know how long. We are just so close, and having something like this happen. it’s hard to comprehend because we are so small we don’t face something like this every day,” Ossian says.

Jennifer Varellas and Tom Heinrichs.

Jennifer Varellas and Tom Heinrichs.

Farragut School Board President, Jennifer Varellas, told the board they have been working to try and meet the plans of the Department of Education for fixing the problems and hoped to keep the district open to do so.

“This is going to be our true year to show you where were are financially. Right now we are 10 percent down from spending last year. We would just like that opportunity to go ahead and prove to you,” Varellas says.

Varellas says they believe they have done the things needed to continuing providing a good education, while cutting the budget to catch up with the deficit. “You know if we come out negative this year then we absolutely deserve to be dissolved,” Varellas says. “Let that be our decision though, is what my recommendation would be.” District Superintendent, Tom Heinrichs, also told the board they are working toward improving the financial situation. “What we are asking you folks to consider is to back off from the nuclear option. Allow this year to play out — which we understood was to be the accreditation year — with the technical assistance of the Department of Ed,” Heinrichs says.

Department of Education deputy director Jeff Burger told the board he understands the importance of small schools and the impact the closing might have. “I will say it’s not a conversation about pro or anti small school. The department has always stood for expecting a certain quality of programming with students, and if that program is viable locally, we aren’t going to interfere with that process,” Berger says. But he says the district has failed to meet standards set that include ADA requirements for buildings, having accredited teachers, and keeping the budget from going into the red.

“This conversation is about whether or not as a state we are holding some sort of expectation for what we expect schools to do or not do,” according to Berger. He says this issue has been going on for the past five years, and the district has $93,000 deficit this year. Berger says add in declining enrollment, and he doesn’t see things changing if the school district stays in operation.

“I’m projecting a sixth year of negative. I can’t see how to make adjustments in this scenario without impacting the way the minimum program is structured,” Berger says. “And if we are interested in kids — we need to talk about what the right adjustment is. If we are going to take this action, taking it in June does not give anyone time to plan forward and make a good transition plan.”

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to shut the district down after this year. The board also voted to turn over financial operation of the district to the Greenfield Area Education Agency. Students will finish out the school year in the district and the Department of Education will redraw the district’s borders. Students in the district will then have time to decide where they wish to go to school next year.


Ex-city clerk in Casey faces federal fraud, arson charges

Crime-sceneThe former city clerk for a small central Iowa town faces federal charges in a case that involves a fire and the alleged theft of tens of thousands of dollars.

Dorothy Dillinger is the former city clerk in Casey. She has been charged with five counts of mail fraud and one count of malicious use of fire. Prosecutors say Dillinger set fire to the city clerk’s office in August of last year, to destroy records state auditors were set to review the next morning.

Auditors were able to track down the records for city accounts through banks and payroll records kept elsewhere. The state auditor’s investigation identified nearly $300,000 worth of questionable spending. Federal prosecutors say Dillinger used the city’s credit card to buy items for personal use. The auditor’s report found Dillinger used city money to make purchases at places like Victoria’s Secret and

Casey is located along the Adair/Guthrie County line. According to Census figures, 425 people live in the town. Dillinger had been the city clerk in Casey since 1984. The auditor’s review covered the last six years Dillinger worked for the city.

91,000 Iowa households get utility disconnection notices this fall

Thousands of Iowans got disconnection notices for being behind on their utility bills.

Thousands of Iowans got disconnection notices for being behind on their utility bills.

The chief of the state’s energy assistance bureau says more than 31,000 low income Iowa households already have qualified for help in paying their utility bills this winter.

Jerry McKim works with Community Action Agencies across the state to enroll Iowans in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“Energy is clearly unaffordable for a large segment of our population,” he says.

Each Iowa household that qualifies for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program will receive a one-time payment this winter of between $450 and $500.

“Between the weather and some of the fuel prices, we’re maybe holding our own — up to a point,” McKim says. “I still believe my benefit is wholly inadequate to address the energy insecurity that a lot of Iowa households experience.”

McKim says Iowa utilities sent disconnect notices to 91,000 Iowa households in September.

“My phone number is on every one of those notices,” McKim says. “Now, I don’t get 91,000 calls, but I’m getting probably about half a dozen a day, folks who are being threatened with disconnection and they’re wanting to know what we can do to help them, if they’re eligible, etc.”

The state ban on disconnecting gas and electric service went into effect November 1 and lasts through April 1, but it only applies to low-income households that are signed up for a government program to weatherize their home or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program McKim manages in Iowa. 21 degrees.”

“Even if a household’s eligible, but doesn’t apply, they could be disconnected,” McKim says. “The only other protection from disconnection is a severe weather one that if the National Weather Service says it’s going to be 20 degrees or colder within 24 hours of your scheduled disconnection the utility has to hold off, but of course they’ll have to hold off until it’s a balmy 21 degrees.”

Applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are accepted from October 1 through April 30.

King calls Muslim migration into Europe ‘colossal cultural suicide’

Train station in Sid, Serbia (photo from @SteveKingIA)

Train station in Sid, Serbia (photo from @SteveKingIA)

Republican Congressman Steve King has just returned from a trip to Europe to view the migration of Syrian refugees in person.

“I saw the erosion of the culture in Europe and I’m not very optimistic about whether they can ever be formed again to be the core of western civilization that they once were because of the colossal cultural suicide that they’re committing,” King says.

King went to the Kurdish-held areas of Iraq, then he made stops in eastern and western Europe.

“I went through Turkey, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Sweden,” King says.

In a city near the border of Serbia and Croatia, King says he saw “no end” to the exodus.

“Six trains a day, a thousand people. Over 2 million people going through one single port of entry, pouring into Europe. They cannot sustain that,” King says. “If they had the money and the infrastructure they can’t sustain it because their culture will eventually be shifted over to a culture of Islam.”

King says western Europeans have too much “cultural guilt.”

“They know that their population is collapsing,” King says. “They didn’t make a decision to have babies, to reproduce themselves. They said: ‘All we can do with our demographics being what they are, the only way we save Europe is to fill Europe up with anything but Europeans.'”

On Monday, President Obama re-commited to resettling Syrian refugees in the United States. King opposes the move.

“The president is determined to import to America hundreds of thousands of displaced persons who will never assimilate into the American civilization,” King says. “That’s the fruits of Obama’s feckless foreign policy.”

Some Republicans have called on the Obama Administration to admit Christian, but not Muslim refugees from Syria. On Monday Obama called that “shameful” and said the U.S. doesn’t “have religious tests to our compassion.” Authorities in Paris say a Syrian passport was found near one of last Friday’s suicide bombers. It has raised concerns Islamic militants are inserting themselves among the refugees and migrants in Turkey who are fleeing into Europe.

Governor orders state agencies to stop work on any Syrian refugee resettlements

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad announced he has ordered all state agencies to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans.

The governor says in a statement “In light of the Paris attacks, resettlement of Syrian refugees in Iowa should cease until a thorough review of the process can be conducted by the U.S. intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured.”

Branstad told reporters this morning he was unsure if governors had the ability block the federal government from sending Syrian refugees to the states. In a news release this afternoon, the governor announced his order to state agencies:

It has been publicly reported that the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has expressed concern over the ability of the Islamic State to “infiltrate waves of Syrian war refugees flowing into Europe and potentially the United States.”

In the past, the federal government has failed to be forthcoming and transparent with information on refugee resettlement and immigration issues. Openness and transparency on resettlement is paramount to the safety of Iowans. The federal government must assure that refugees have been properly screened and security protocols have been taken before being allowed in the United States.

“We have welcomed refugees from around the world into Iowa. We must continue to have compassion for others but we must also maintain the safety of Iowans and the security of our state,” said Branstad. “Until a thorough and thoughtful review is conducted by the intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured, the federal government should not resettle any Syrian refugees in Iowa.”


Congressman Steve King endorses Ted Cruz (AUDIO)

Congressman Steve King.

Congressman Steve King.

Congressman Steve King has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

“Our nation’s sick and our nation is getting sicker,” King said this morning during a news conference in Des Moines. “…That’s why my consistent prayer for nearly a year has been to ask God to raise up a leader whom he will use to restore the soul of America.”

King praised “outsider” candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump, who are currently at the top of Iowa polls, but King said neither is as familiar with the “organism” of Washington, D.C. as Cruz is.

“Our conscience starts to get to us the closer we get to caucus and then we start making those harder decisions of, well, I like this person and that person, but in the end, it isn’t about who you like,” King said. “It’s about who will do the best job as president.”

Iowa Congressman Steve King (left) and Texas Senator Ted Cruz with Iraqi war veteran Michael Zimmerman of Minnesota during King's pheasant hunt held on October 31st.

Iowa Congressman Steve King (left) and Texas Senator Ted Cruz with Iraqi war veteran Michael Zimmerman of Minnesota during King’s pheasant hunt held on October 31st.

Cruz is a lawyer from Texas who gained national attention soon after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.

In 2013, Cruz led a group of conservatives seeking a showdown with President Obama over the Affordable Care Act, prompting a brief government shutdown.

“He knows how Washington works and has successfully taken on the D.C. elites,” King said. “He has consistently stood on principle.”

King told reporters this morning that he believes Cruz can get the crucial support of Christian conservatives, but King admitted Cruz has to work on mending relationships with the GOP’s establishment in order to unite the party and be its nominee.

“First, we all need to be nice to each other, so there’s been a little friction in the Senate. I recognize that, so hopefully that can be toned down a little bit,” King said. “But I think that both sides have to look at it — but it seems to be when the wedges get tapped in, it’s the establishment that taps them in.”

King is one of the staunchest GOP critics of what he calls “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. King said his public endorsement is timed, in part, to respond to recent questions of Cruz’s stand on the issue.

“If we get this debate wrong in this presidential race, America can be destroyed,” King said. “…Let’s make sure we’re clear on the positions of our presidential candidates and I hope that this endorsement does add clarity to Ted Cruz’s position on immigration and any of the competitors that are blurring his position on immigration.”

King said during debate of comprehensive immigration reform a few years ago, Cruz offered “strategic” amendments designed to “pry out” the real motives of bill backers, but King said he’s confident Cruz is on the same page with him when it comes to “amnesty.”

As the dean of the Iowa delegation in the U.S. House, King said he has didn’t want to “squander” his opportunity to influence the presidential race and that’s why he’s endorsing now. King made a similar move in late 2007, publicly throwing his support behind Fred Thompson in the lead up to the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. King did not endorse a GOP candidate in 2012.

King’s son, Jeff, has been working for the Super PAC supporting Cruz.

AUDIO of King’s news conference, 30:00

Hunting photo courtesy of Dennis Morrice, KLEM, LeMars.

Experts at summit talk about move from prescription pills to heroin addiction

PillsPolice, prosecutors,and medical professionals gathered in Iowa City this week for a summit on the growing problem of heroin addiction in Iowa. They heard how overuse of prescription painkillers leads addicts to turn to heroin — which is cheaper and easier to get — and how heroin use now rivals the methamphetamine epidemic.

Doctor Anthony Miller with Veterans Hospital in Iowa City says the heroin problem has its roots in the 1990’s when views on managing pain shifted in American medicine. He says providers began to think that undertreating pain was wrong, and that pain killers known as opioids are safe.

“And between the years of 1997 and 2007 the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States quadrupled,” Millers says. Their use in Iowa tripled and the addiction to opioids soared. Now addicts who started on pain pills are injecting heroin to satisfy the craving.

Heroin deaths which we used to be associated with a sordid ghetto life are happening to the boy and girl next door. Andy Brown of Davenport was prescribed Percocet for pain after surgery when he was 14. He died of heroin overdose at the age of 33. His mother, Kim Brown showed pictures of her son during the summit and says .

overdosed three times in all. “The third time he overdosed he died,” Brown says. ” The person he was with didn’t call for help.” Brown now advocates for easier access to a medicine that works as an antidote for an overdose that would otherwise be deadly. That’s one of several strategies experts examined to minimize the damage from heroin use, while law enforcement struggles to keep it off the streets.

Federal Drug Enforcement Agent Matt Bradford says big heroin busts are going down in Chicago and that is a key here. “Chicago is your main source city that supplies Iowa. So, Chicago is important,” according to Bradford. He says the drug comes primarily from a cartel in Mexico. Now officials have launched the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative to address prevention, treatment and enforcement in Linn, Johnson, Blackhawk and Dubuque Counties. Jerrry Blomgren with the Johnson County Narcotics Task Force attended the summit with several of his undercover cops. “A lot of them do undercover buys of drugs. Heroin has been a big problem for all of us,” Blomgren says.

A spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Health says there are more methodone clinics to treat the addicted in eastern Iowa because of the heroin problem there. He says there are clinics in Council Bluffs and Sioux City in western Iowa and that doesn’t leave a lot of options when patients there are coming for daily dosing. While heroin has grabbed the attention of Iowans the relatively older problem of painkiller addiction persists. Experts say student athletes should be educated about pain meds. They say employers should be aware of the potential for their employees to be overprescribed pain meds following workplace injuries.

Keynote speaker Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” says pharmaceutical companies should be paying for the unused drug collection efforts underway in some Iowa towns. He says heroin use has exploded because it hasn’t been acknowledged like meth. “People have been mortified to talk about their kid — who died in a McDonald’s bathroom with a needle in his arm,” Quinones says.

Kim Brown knows that frustration firsthand. “Because when my son died in 2011, I didn’t have anywhere to go….nobody would talk to me,” Brown explains. Brown now heads up a group for parents who’ve lost children to drug overdose. She’ll be back will at the capitol next year pushing for a law to let families have the antidote that stops a heroin overdose. She says that might have saved her son’s life.

Health officials say for the 13-year period beginning in 2000, Iowans dying from prescription medication overdoses increased 20-fold. Heroin overdose deaths experienced the same alarming rate of increase, jumping from one to 20 deaths per year.

Thanks to Joyce Russell Iowa Pubic Radio.