Some state lawmakers are skeptical of a recent declaration that the Iowa Board of Regents will keep the state’s only school for the blind open. Though the board announced last week it has no intention of closing the school in Vinton, it didn’t convince Democratic Representative Dawn Pettengill of Mount Auburn.
Pettengill says one reason they wanted to close the school is that it has only 34 students right now, and costs 124-thousand dollars a student. She says if you limit admission to blind kids but bar those with multiple handicaps, it’ll cut the number who can attend to just a handful of children. She says doing that would starve it on the vine.
Pettengill is so convinced the Board of Regents will eventually close the school for the blind, she proposed an amendment that would have limited the board’s authority. Pettengill later withdrew the amendment, but defended the 150 year old school’s record. She says they learn life skills there, like cooking and shopping. The kids from the school walk to the store together and she says people in Vinton all greet and embrace the kids, and “they love them,” She says it would be a disservice to move them out so each lives alone in a community.
Board of Regents Executive Director Gary Steinke says they have no intention of closing the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School… but do want to make it more efficient. Of the four-million dollar appropriation for serving all blind children in the state, three-Million’s currently being used for 32 kids at the school, while the 500 other kids across the state split the rest. Steinke says “We have heard for quite some time from the parents of the blind kids across the state that their services are not what they should be.” He says there are changes contemplated.
Steinke says the cost of instruction at the school is less than the cost of heating, cooling and maintaining the buildings. The board plans to down by using only two of the buildings instead of the current six and save money that’s spent on maintenance to go instead to serve kids across the state. Steinke says the school was never intended to serve kids with multiple disabilities. The Iowa Braille and Sight-Saving School was founded in 1852.