Monday, February 5

Regional Planning is Progressive

Iowa is a state that, based on Home Rule, allows cities and counties limited power because the purse strings are regulated from Des Moines. What this does in essence is to pit large town against small town and the overall region suffers. A great example of this is education. Because of the way that schools are funded, smaller community schools on the outskirts of bigger cities, (e.g. Solon and Iowa City) have a lag in dealing with growth issues because structures are largely attached to property tax assessments, which are lower, and per capita student funding. What this does is to put smaller towns into the unenviable task of running bond issues more frequently than the larger towns or cities and having higher interest rates to cover costs.

If educational administration was handled at a regional level (and with adequate support financially from the state, in terms of per capita student funds/allowable growth rates) this situation could be handled more efficiently and with less wear and tear on all the communities. Just from the cost savings alone of having less administration, millions could be saved. It would also push districts to develop more streamlined plans for future growth and to share resources. For example, if a town has two high schools, have a shared sports complex for football, baseball, soccer, and track events.

The current system encourages duplication of resources that may not be fully utilized, and regionalization encourages cooperation.

Of course, this change calls for different thinking, which is difficult because school systems are economic development tools within communities. The perception that school A is better than school B leads to housing and business growth. If schools are "equalized"--even if only on paper, that is a scary notion to some. Add to that the emotional aspect of people feeling like they don't have "say" in their child's school and you a recipe for resistance.

Still, in these days when people question the role and value of government, the least government can do is offer a way to improve the quality of services, make better use of tax dollars and improve education overall.

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