Public hearing on Area Education Agency changes

DES MOINES — A public hearing at the statehouse gave over two dozen parents and educators an opportunity to share their opinions on proposed changes in how Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies operate. The governor released her proposed overhaul in January. Republican senators have made some adjustments to the governor’s bill. Republicans in the House have their own alternative.

Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith called the House plan a watered down bill and he urged lawmakers to make most of the changes Reynolds has proposed.  “The system has been in place for a long time and where we live the system doesn’t work,” Smith said. “..Allow us in Spirit Lake the ability to pick and choose what we want to do…Put the funds toward the school district and let the AEAs earn our business.”

David Tully of Adel, a former deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education, says his local AEA has been a safety net for his daughter who has a disability.  “It feels like these AEA bills are playing fee-for-service politics with our childrens’ futures,” Tully says. “Changes are being proposed to the AEA structures without appropriate study, nor sufficient stakeholder input and it terrifies us whose children depend on the future of the AEAs.”

Ottumwa superintendent Mike McGrory says he supports the House Republicans’ plan to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. “My support for this bill includes no wish to devastate our AEAs and the good staff that work there,” McGrory said. “However, the world has changed…It’s time for reform.”

Doug Glackin, the superintendent of Woodbury Central Community School District, supports some of the changes that have been proposed, including a reduction in the salaries for top AEA managers, but he’s urging lawmakers to slow down the timeline.  “I want you to consider that reform doesn’t have to be in the form of demolition,” Glackin said. “I am for an independent study of the system, taking the time to look at what is working and what needs to be addressed.”

Jacob Bolsom, a member of the Hubbard-Radcliff Board of Education, says if the plans as proposed are adopted, AEA services will be degraded and the state will be sued.  “This rushed policy will harm students the most in small schools in rural areas such as mine,” Bolsom says.

Megan Brink runs the AEA’s bulk purchasing program for school lunches and she told lawmakers if large districts opt out of this service, the food bills for small schools will rise.  “We rely on those big school districts to be able to look attractive to our distributor partners and our vendor partners,” she says.

The chairman of the House Education Committee says Wednesday night’s testimony was similar to previous input lawmakers have received about A-E-As and House Republicans will continue their conversations about the bill.