A different approach

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Nobody should accuse the Storm Lake School Board and administration of not listening to the voters. The board asked its public relations consultant, Jerry Gallagher, to survey voters in the recently failed bond referendum. The message was, of course, that nobody wants their property taxes to increase, and that we should first look to our existing facilities before building a whole new early childhood education center on a separate campus.

There’s wisdom in the survey, and the board shifted its tack and is doing exactly what the public suggests.

It will study whether the existing elementary and middle schools could be expanded to solve current and projected space shortages as enrollment continues to increase in Storm Lake. The board also will look at the East School campus, which currently houses early childhood programs in outdated facilities.

One of the selling points of the elementary school was that it could be expanded. Its proximity to the middle school, without a highway separating them as the planned early childhood campus would, makes it an apt place. Perhaps one or both buildings can be expanded to allow flexibility in spacing between the adjacent schools, as the middle school soon will swell like the elementary.

And, rehabilitating East and Gingerbread House might make for ample space into the future.

There are a lot of options to be explored that require creativity, curiosity for new opportunities and flexibility. The board and administration are showing that they’re open to exploring those avenues.

A far worse thing would be to pare back the early childhood center and call another bond issue that fails, and then pare it back again until it is too small. That’s what happened with the middle school.

It will take vision from educators, architects, the board and the public to come up with a better plan than what was presented. We have every confidence that they can arrive at a comprehensive solution that will allow flexibility especially between the elementary and middle schools, which were designed with large-enough campuses to accommodate growth. It’s a good new direction that might save money. If it doesn’t, we will have to bite that bullet at some point and provide space for our children. Let’s all hope this next plan provides the opening.

A forum for Rural America

We’re privileged to stand with the Iowa Farmers Union, Huffington Post and the Open Markets Action Fund to sponsor a Presidential forum on rural affairs at Buena Vista University’s Schaller Memorial Chapel and Siebens Forum on March 30 at 1 p.m. It will be the first event of its kind in the 2020 Iowa Caucus Cycle, and will be moderated by Times Editor Art Cullen. Buena Vista University is hosting the event through the good offices of President Joshua Merchant, who recently launched special centers in rural entrepreneurship, agriculture and food production. Former Governor and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will welcome the crowd.

The event will be a special day for The City Beautiful as the world’s media puts its lens on Storm Lake.

The Farmers Union will haul them in by the busload from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Five candidates have committed so far — John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. A couple more are expected to take the stage. Some will hold rallies around town and campus before and after the event. Some candidates must rush off, others will hang around for a cocktail reception at 3 p.m. to greet voters.

This is not a debate. Each candidate will take the stage separately and submit to questions from the audience, and from The Times and reporters from the Huffington Post. The questions are intended to shed light for the candidates on agricultural and rural affairs, and to tell us their commitment to seeing all America flourish.

This is something of a rarity. Rural affairs have gotten short shrift for decades, and as a result rural places have been sorely squeezed. Farming has changed dramatically but policy hasn’t. The climate is changing rapidly but we aren’t keeping pace. Rural places are draining people who want to make a living near family where they are reared. Immigrants land in places like Storm Lake and Denison for a new shot at freedom and opportunity, but they are often greeted elsewhere with contempt. These are some of the issues we hope to explore.

We are grateful to the Democratic candidates who are showing by their presence in a deeply Republican region that they will bid for every vote. It gives us hope that the wake-up call of Donald Trump winning the Midwest has committed Democrats to re-exploring their relationship with rural areas.

It will be a great day for Storm Lake and our experiment in democracy. We hope you attend.