By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Lake Delhi, education reform and the condition of the state were among the topics discussed this weekend, as Rep. Lee Hein and Congress Sen. Dan Zumbach came to Monticello to visit with city leaders, constituents and business owners.
The public forum took place on Feb. 16 at the Renaissance Center.
Hein said one of the biggest issues they are dealing with in Des Moines right now is mental health regionalization. He said they are working on transitioning funds for mental health care to the counties to assist with the transition.
“We’re in the start of our second year with the redesign,” said Hein. “Regionalization will provide more standardized care and eliminate waiting lists in certain parts of the state.”
Education reform, a push from Governor Terry Branstad when the 2013 session started in January, is something that both Hein and Zumbach agreed would take some time.
“Our goal is to increase student achievement,” said Hein.
“Can the legislature really motivate kids to learn?” questioned Jerry Retzlaff.
Zumbach said for the Senate, the frustrating thing is the funding tied to the education reform bill.
“I voted against it,” he said, with the bill being sent on to the House.
“It’s by no means a perfect bill,” admitted Hein. “My concern is the smaller school districts.”
Hein did say that schools have the option to opt into or out of the reform program, though reform funding is tied to those who participate.
City Council member Tom Yeoman commented that if students are not producing results, is it a case of “bad teachers?”
“That’s been the discussion,” Hein said. “But workers’ have rights.”
He said they’ve been debating education reform for several days, “but it didn’t go anywhere.”
Zumbach added, “We need to pay more money to teachers who excell.”
Another change Hein would like to see added into the reform bill is more frequent teacher evaluations, perhaps once a year versus every three years. “That’s something we need to ask of the administrations.”
“Above all,” said Zumbach, “student achievement needs to be the driving force behind excellent teachers.” However, he said each student is different when comparing achievement. “It’s not apples to apples.”
Hein said, “Different students perform differently.”
In knowing whether a teacher is “good” or “bad,” City Administrator Doug Herman noted that students themselves are often the best judges of that characteristic. He said students know which teachers they’d rather be in a class with or not.
“Kids, parents, the community all know who’s the best teacher and the ones who struggle,” noted Zumbach. He would like to see the education reform bill allow for top-notch educators to become coaches for new teachers.
Council member Dave Goedken asked the legislators about the gas tax bill in terms of property taxes being affected.
“Is there anyway to make it a bill versus continue to bargain?” inquired Goedken.
“We’re not giving up on it,” Hein said. “Gas tax (bill) won’t move without bipartisan support.”
Zumbach agreed saying, “It’s a hot potato bill.” He said there’s a lot of money tied to it, making it a “real opportunity for waste.”
One issue Zumbach has with the bill is rest areas. He said why is the state making an effort to have such top-notch rest areas off the highways and interstates when roads and bridges should take priority.
“We need the gas tax,” Goedken said plain and clear. “Our roads are falling apart. We also need to oversee where the money goes.”
The current situation at Lake Delhi concerning the dam is still under discussion in Des Moines. The dam failed in 2010 and not much work has been accomplished in the meantime.
“We’re in a discussion period,” Hein offered. He explained the DNR has a “philosophical issue with the height of the dam.”
Hein simplified the issues by asking: “Is the roof the top of the car or is the antenna the top?”
Zumbach felt confident the something would happen soon at Lake Delhi. “Something needs to happen, but needs to happen right,” he said. “I feel good that we’ll see some construction start yet this year.”
Hein said the Lake Delhi trustees and the DNR have been meeting, and in fact, had a meeting set up this week.
It was questioned whether the dam would remain privately owned with public access. Hein said it would be a public area with public access established. “We will not have a privately owned dam.”
Zumbach said with public money tied to the rebuilding dam project, “there’d better be public access.”