Sioux Center, Iowa — One of the men representing this area in Des Moines says the signing of the governor’s new “School Choice” bill will actually HELP many public schools in his district.

The new law is expected to give $345 million to parents to send their students to private schools. It will provide state-funded accounts for the parents of private school students. In the first year, low-income parents who enroll a child in a private school could apply for nearly $7600 in state funding to cover tuition, computers, textbooks, and tutoring. In 2026, all private school parents could apply for the state money. According to school officials, the $7600 represents the entire amount that the district gets from the state per pupil, per year. However, the districts will get $1200 per year per pupil for pupils whose parents have elected to send them to private schools instead.

And that’s how District 2 State Senator Jeff Taylor of Sioux Center says a number of public schools in his district will actually GAIN funding from this bill.

He tells us how that can be.

But he says the clincher is that the private school student does NOT have to be a NEW private school student.

He says it was a contentious bill, and he listened to everyone who spoke to him and read every comment people sent about it before making a decision.

At what was assumed to be Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ request, the bill was on a fast track. It passed early in the morning of January 24th and was signed into law later that same day.

January 30, 2023 - 2:56 pm - Posted in News

Photos courtesy Tri-State Drone Photography Click to enlarge

Inwood, Iowa — The roof of the gym part of the Inwood Community Center has collapsed.

Inwood city officials tell us no one was injured when the roof collapsed on Saturday night, January 28th, in the 7 p.m. hour. They are asking people to stay away from the community center as they work through details with insurance and cleanup.

While no official word has been received, it is thought that the collapse was due to a heavy snow load. They tell us the walls are pulling in somewhat.

City officials say the Community Center is closed until further notice. They are telling parents who use the bus stop that no one will be able to enter the Community Center at all, including the lobby. They say the Inwood Post Office will allow kids to wait inside for the bus for now if needed due to the cold.

According to Scott Hanson with the City of Inwood, the gym is used for gym nights, racquetball, and various other recreation, and is frequently rented out. He says on a normal Saturday there would probably be 20 kids in the gym, but luckily there was no one in it when the roof came down.

Hanson was one of the first people on the scene beside a few people that were finishing up in one of the meeting rooms when it fell. He says Inwood firefighters and rescue personnel made sure everyone was out of the building, checked the structure, killed the power, and turned off the gas and water.

He tells us the facility is closed right now, but it’s looking like they will be able to continue to use the front half of the building, which contains the city hall and the library. According to Hanson, they are just beginning to talk to their insurance company and they have a structural engineer coming to take a look.

Hanson says when the roof collapsed, it did blow some doors open in the other part of the building and blew roof insulation into the hallway and rooms, which will all have to be cleaned up. He says the gym part of the building is basically destroyed and will need to be replaced if they’re going to continue to have a community gym.

Hanson tells us that the building was built in the 1980s and served as corn storage for a few years, with the intention to turn it into a community center. He says the public is safe as long as they stay away from the building at this time.

Northwest Iowa — Garden programs in Lyon and O’Brien counties are receiving some financial assistance.

In the midst of record-setting food pantry usage throughout the state, Growing Together Mini-Grants will provide fresh produce and nutrition education to pantries in 2023 through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s SNAP-Education program.

A total of 30 projects are being funded, with the goal of increasing food security and promoting healthy food access and nutrition education. This year, the Growing Together Iowa project will expand to five new counties.  A map is available that shows where projects are funded.

Master Gardener volunteers plant donation gardens with partners, support their community with plant-a-row programs to get more produce into food pantries and glean fresh produce from farmers’ markets and home gardeners. All produce is donated to local food pantries, food banks, and other food distribution sites with accompanying nutrition education materials.

Extension officials tell us that in O’Brien County, the money will be used to maintain donation gardens in Sanborn and Sheldon and collect excess home gardening produce donations. A container gardening class will be offered to food pantry clients at Love INC as well as “Pick Your Own” gardening opportunities.

They say that in Lyon County, the money will help expand the donation garden to meet the produce needs of ATLAS of Lyon County. Opportunities for food pantry clients will be provided including container gardening workshops, garden tours, and helping hours.

Larchwood, Iowa — The operator of the Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort at Larchwood has joined the campaign to renew the UNI-Dome on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls for the next generation with a $1.5 million investment.

Dan Kehl, CEO of Elite Casino Resorts, said the gift, the second-largest to the UNI-Dome renovation project thus far, aligns with the family-owned company’s values of giving back to uplift the future of the state of Iowa.

Kehl says, “The UNI-Dome is such an iconic facility at such a great institution, it needs to be preserved. Our hope is that UNI continues to cultivate future leaders here in the state of Iowa and that the students who attend the University of Northern Iowa stay here in the state of Iowa to help Iowa prosper and grow.”

The contribution to the UNI-Dome renovation adds to Elite Casino Resorts’ philanthropic support of athletics programs, law enforcement agencies, and local nonprofits in the state of Iowa. The company operates three casino resorts in Iowa including Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, Rhythm City Casino Resort, and Grand Falls Casino Golf Resort.

In recognition of Elite’s gift, a premier space in the UNI-Dome will be named in the company’s honor.

Elite’s investment supports a three-phased $50 million renovation of the UNI-Dome. Included in the first phase of renovations is replacing the UNI-Dome’s nearly 25-year-old fabric roof, reconstructing the west entrance and concourse, creating new and increased restrooms, and providing new and expanded suites.

Phase two of the project will include bowl upgrades and structural improvements along with resurfacing the indoor track.

Northwest Iowa — After this week’s signing of Governor Kim Reynolds’ “School Choice” bill into law, northwest Iowa public school superintendents are unsure to hopeful about the future.

The new law is expected to give $345 million to parents to send their students to private schools. It will provide state-funded accounts for the parents of private school students. In the first year, low-income parents who enroll a child in a private school could apply for nearly $7600 in state funding to cover tuition, computers, textbooks, and tutoring. In 2026, all private school parents could apply for the state money. According to school officials, the $7600 represents the entire amount that the district gets from the state per pupil, per year. However, the districts will get $1200 per year per pupil for pupils whose parents have elected to send them to private schools instead. Interestingly enough, depending on the district and the number of pupils CURRENTLY enrolled in private schools, it might mean an INCREASE in funding in some districts.

Sheldon Community School District Superintendent Cory Myer says, “I believe most families appreciate the high quality of education we provide in Sheldon and our families feel good about the choice they made when they enrolled in our school district.”

Sibley/Ocheyedan Community School District Superintendent James Craig says, “I really don’t have an indication about families moving to private school. Our conversations with parents are usually for open enrollment or homeschooling, so I have no idea where that will go for us.”

West Lyon Superintendent Shawn Kremen says, “It’s so hard to predict at this point, I don’t know that it will impact us a whole lot at this point, but again not sure.”

Central Lyon Superintendent Brent Jorth says, “It’s hard for me to estimate how many families will opt to attend a private school, because the choice is truly the private school’s to make. From my perspective, Central Lyon will continue to fulfill its mission to provide an exceptional education, opportunities, and resources for all students to become productive, life-long learners. Our families are very fortunate to have a teaching staff that is dedicated to empowering students to achieve at high levels as demonstrated in a track record of academic success and career readiness. Our school board and staff will continue to partner with families and our community to provide students with learning opportunities in and out of the classroom that will prepare them to be life-long learners, productive members of the community, and responsible citizens.”

Boyden-Hull Superintendent Steve Grond says, “I don’t know how it will impact Boyden-Hull and surrounding schools. We offer an excellent education at Boyden-Hull for all students, which we will continue to deliver. Overall, I believe that students and parents are pleased with the education they receive while at Boyden-Hull.”

MOC/Floyd Valley Superintendent Russ Adams says, “I am hopeful that our families recognize the outstanding quality of education they are receiving for their children at MOC-Floyd Valley, but time will tell.”

January 27, 2023 - 5:22 pm - Posted in News

Inwood, Iowa — An Inwood pair has been arrested on burglary charges after a search warrant was carried out.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the Lyon County Clerk of Court’s Office by the county sheriff’s office, 33-year-old Eric Tilstra and 29-year-old Jacy Steiner, both of Inwood are accused of burglarizing an Inwood business. They were arrested on Wednesday, January 25th.

The complaint alleges that the pair forced entry into Sew-N-More in Inwood with the intent to commit theft. It accuses them of stealing consignment items as well as the camera that allegedly captured video of them and alerted the business owner. The deputy says a search warrant was carried out at Tilstra’s home and some of the items that were taken and the camera were located there. The deputy goes on to say that during the execution of the search warrant, marijuana and methamphetamine smoking devices were found. It also alleges that Tilstra drove a Polaris Ranger from his home to the victim’s business on a public roadway while his license was barred and suspended.

Both Tilstra and Steiner were charged with Third-Degree Burglary, a class D felony. In addition, Tilstra also faces misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance and driving while barred.

If convicted of the felony burglary offenses, Tilstra and Steiner could face up to five years in prison.

Both face a preliminary hearing on Friday, February 3rd, 2023.

January 25, 2023 - 3:49 pm - Posted in News

George, Iowa — A house was destroyed in a fire on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, in George.

According to George Fire Chief Bill Sprock, at about 4:50 p.m., the George Fire Department was called to the report of a kitchen fire at 102 East Calumet Avenue, in the southwest part of George.

The chief says the fire department saw black smoke coming from the windows and a side door as they approached the scene. He says they entered the home and mounted an interior attack and knocked down the fire.

Sprock says the occupant of the home was brought to a hospital by private vehicle. The occupant had possible burns and smoke inhalation, according to Sprock.

The Little Rock Fire Department provided manpower at the fire scene as well.

He says the cause of the fire appeared to be electrical in nature, related to a ceiling lighting fixture.

Chief Sprock reports that the home was totaled in the blaze. He says the occupant is living with friends and family until his housing situation is worked out.

He says the firefighters who responded were on the scene for about an hour and 40 minutes.

Des Moines, Iowa — Governor Kim Reynolds has signed her “School Choice Plan” bill into law. It is expected to give $345 million to parents to send their students to private schools.

One of only three Republican senators to vote “no” on the bill was a state senator that represents a portion of our area. District 3 Republican State Senator Lynn Evans voted against the bill. Iowa Senate District 3 consists of all of O’Brien, Osceola, and Buena Vista counties, along with most of Clay and Cherokee counties. Evans is the former superintendent of the Alta-Aurelia Community School District.

Most Republicans in the Iowa legislature have voted for Governor Kim Reynolds’ top 2023 priority — a bill that will provide state-funded accounts for the parents of private school students.

Republican Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake opened Monday’s House debate by saying the bill is about freedom.

Democrats like Representative Sue Cahill of Marshalltown say the choice is up to private school administrators since nothing requires private schools to accept all students.

After five and a half hours of debate, the bill cleared the House on a 55 to 45 vote. Senators debated in earnest for about three hours, passing the bill just before 12:30 this (Tuesday) morning on a 31-to-18 vote. Representative Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, says state funds will now follow a child to the school that best fits their needs.

Representative Thomas Moore of Griswold opposes the governor’s two, less expansive “school choice” proposals and he is one of nine House Republicans who voted against this year’s proposal.

Three Republican Senators opposed the plan. Representative Skyler Wheeler, a Republican from Hull who backed the bill, says public school parents got frustrated during the pandemic and asked for this alternative.

Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, disagreed.

In the first year, low-income parents who enroll a child in a private school could apply for nearly $7600 in state funding to cover tuition, computers, textbooks, and tutoring. In 2026, all private school parents could apply for the state money. Representative Austin Baeth, a Democrat from Des Moines, says an estimated 79 percent of the money will be spent on kids already enrolled in private schools.

Wills says if Iowans didn’t want school choice, they wouldn’t have expanded the Republican majorities in the legislature — and would not have reelected Governor Reynolds by a 19-point margin.

All Democrats in the legislature voted against the bill. Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls says the governor’s plan is Robin Hood in reverse.

Reynolds held a private ceremony in her formal office Monday to mark the start of “School Choice Week.”

January 25, 2023 - 9:21 am - Posted in News

Lester, Iowa — An Inwood man was taken to the hospital after an accident on Monday afternoon near Lester.

According to the Lyon County Sheriff’s office, at about 4:30 p.m., 38-year-old Christopher Driesen of Inwood was driving a 2016 Buick Regal westbound on Highway 9, about three miles west of Lester, when the vehicle went into the south ditch.

The Lyon County Ambulance took Driesen to Avera Merrill Pioneer Hospital in Rock Rapids.

The sheriff’s office says Lester Fire and Rescue and the Lyon County Ambulance assisted with the response to the accident.

click to enlarge

Northwest Iowa — The latest unemployment numbers show Lyon and Sioux counties continue to have the lowest unemployment in the state. Meanwhile, the latest numbers available show the state unemployment rate held steady at three-point-one percent in December.

Iowa Workforce Development director, Beth Townsend, says there were some positive signs as the year wrapped up.

The labor force participation rate dropped slightly as Townsend says about 17-hundred people dropped out of the workforce.

Townsend says the state entered 2023 on good footing in the face of some ongoing national issues.

Employers continue to cite the need for more skilled workers, and she says that’s one thing Iowa Workforce Development will continue working on.

She says there are a lot of good programs trying to create employee pipelines that are crucial to fixing the workforce crisis employers face.

The latest numbers available for local unemployment are those from November. Workforce officials remind us that these numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

Sioux County remains the county with the lowest unemployment in the state, at 1.7 percent, unchanged from the previous month. Lyon County has the second-lowest unemployment, at 1.9 percent, up a tenth of a percent from the previous month, when it was 1.8 percent. Unemployment in Osceola and O’Brien counties remains low as well. Osceola County’s unemployment was at 2.0 percent in November, up from 1.8 percent in October. And in O’Brien County, unemployment is at 2.4 percent, up from 2.1 percent the month before.