Iowa’s largest school district is hiring its own lobbyist. The Des Moines School Board has agreed to pay $30,000 a year to a Des Moines firm to persuade state legislators about the district’s special needs. Des Moines Schools’ spokesperson Phil Roeder says demographics in Iowa’s largest city present special school challenges.

“Because of the size of Des Moines public schools, which is twice as large as the second largest district in Iowa, we see a great amount of diversity and complexity and issues with our students,” Roeder said. “We could better serve them if we just have some additional flexibility and options that are afforded to us by the state.”

With the exception of Des Moines, the Iowa Association of School Boards does the lobbying for Iowa’s 350 school districts. IASB executive director Tom Downs hopes other districts don’t follow suit. “Des Moines, to my disappointment, has not been a member of the IASB for the past two years, and therein lies my concern -that we speak with strength with one voice,” Downs said.

“If we become competing voices, I think we have the potential of sending mixed messages to legislators.” Downs is hoping the move by the Des Moines School District doesn’t encourage other urban districts to split the association’s traditional coalition with smaller, rural districts.