Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers


Telegraph Herald. Dec. 2, 2012.

Mental health plan calls for counties to work together

As Iowa's 99 counties face regionalization of the state's mental health system, there will be challenges and growing pains. But leaders from all counties should enter into this discussion willing to work together and explore the best way to create a statewide standard of care.

That means putting your cards on the table, talking through concerns and working together as a new unit. When Dubuque County Supervisor Daryl Klein met with leadership from the six other counties Dubuque plans to work with, he was the only one at the meeting prepared to do that.

Klein asked the other county representatives whether they were prepared to share resources -- an approach the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors thinks makes sense. Not only did the six other counties not want to commit to pooling money, they didn't even want to discuss the issue.

That's disappointing. Dubuque plans to join a region that includes Benton, Delaware, Iowa, Jones, Johnson and Linn counties. With three big counties and four small counties working together as a region, it makes sense to pool and distribute resources according to population. Yet when Klein raised the issue, only Benton County's representative answered the question — and that was a "no" to resource sharing.

Perhaps counties need to think a little harder about the goal of regionalization. Right now, when someone seeks mental health services, the quality of care, whether that patient is admitted or sees a psychiatrist, is all dictated by where the individual lives. That's the problem with having 99 different mental health systems. The cost to the taxpayer varies widely from county to county as well. Under a regional model, all county taxpayers in the state will pay the same rate. Once the rates are equal, so should be the care.

Dubuque County supervisors believe that means counties within the region should pool resources and split costs of overhead on a per capita basis. That sounds fair and equitable.

But Klein noted other counties in the region operate with much higher staffing levels than Dubuque County does. Perhaps part of the reluctance to discuss pooling resources is a reticence to give up staff. That's understandable, but one of the goals of regionalization is improved efficiency. If Dubuque County can function with a two-person department, smaller counties with bigger staffs probably have some introspection to do.

These kinds of discrepancies are the result of a fractured delivery model in which patient care is managed based on the number of doctors and the number of beds available in a particular county. The state is finally ready to tackle this issue. We need every county to come to the discussion with an open mind. Becoming more efficient is a key goal of the plan.

Regionalization wasn't brought up just to save money, though. This is a constituency that is struggling and has trouble being heard. Quality mental-health care should be assured of every Iowan, no matter in what county a person resides. The old approach hasn't been working; it's time to try something new. To get there, counties need to drop parochial concerns and start thinking like a region.


Quad-City Times. Dec. 3, 2012.

Twitter carries key lessons

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of sp"

That's as far as James Madison would have gotten tweeting the First Amendment.

In the pen and parchment days, 140 characters couldn't cover much.

Today of course, Twitter users make and break news every day. The instant, short-form commentary has proven instrumental in uniting people's movements worldwide when governments choose to suppress other channels.

Journalist Malik Al-Abdeh on Oct. 20, 2011, found 140 characters sufficient to tweet: "First to tweet this from on-ground sources and I can confirm: (hash)GADDAFI IS DEAD. He was shot dead by (hash)FF in (hash)Tripoli. (hash)Libya."

Others have inspired millions with succinct tweets: "Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI." With this June 28, 2011, tweet from his iPad, the Pope reached out instantly, worldwide.

We've found Twitter to be incredibly effective for sharing breaking news and especially for bringing Quad-Citians into coverage of major events like presidential candidate visits. The live discussion brings more voices, viewpoints, photos and videos to our readers.

Of course, Twitter remains mostly associated with jokes, notes and inane celebrity observations.

But in these first two weeks of December, students ages 14 and up are encouraged to tweet support for the First Amendment. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the "Free to Tweet" campaign to celebrate the freedom as vital to today's Twitter as they were to our 18th century Founding Fathers.

The campaign organized by 1 for All prompts students to reflect on the power of that 221-year-old amendment and share concise thoughts. The campaign culminates Dec. 15 — Bill of Rights Day — with the selection of five winning tweets. Each winner receives a $5,000 college scholarship.

What to say?

The possibilities are limitless.

Nicholas Creegan of White Plains, N.Y., won a scholarship last year with: "Silence might be golden, but silence never got much done in a democracy. Speak now or don't complain later. (hash)FreeToTweet"

Miracle Stewart, 16, of Louisville, Ky., tweeted: "I write out of passion. They sing for joy. He worships in love. She gathers in support. We petition in hope. We are (hash)freetotweet"

We'd hope every Q-C student would take a moment to consider the power of this First Amendment, then express it over Twitter. Even if it doesn't win a scholarship, it proves how some 18th century content holds up quite well across 21st century platforms.


The Gazette. Dec. 2, 2012.

Explore the use of SAMs

Years ago, Iowa was one of the first states to pilot the use of School Administration Managers, SAMs for short. A few dozen schools use them today.

Gov. Terry Branstad's education reform blueprint unveiled last year initially called for the legislature to fund a SAM process training and continue financial support to hire SAMs in every Iowa public school building, but that reform idea was tossed out in legislative debate.

Legislators should revive the idea this session.

Generally, we're wary of adding more front-office staff to schools. Students always should be the focus of our educational dollars.

But it seems there are potentially significant educational benefits to adding SAMS to Iowa schools.

A 2009 Wallace Foundation study of SAM usage nationwide found it allowed principals an increase equivalent to one full day per week in instructional time.

Sixty-two Iowa schools currently use SAMs, School Administrators of Iowa Executive Director Dan Smith told us this week. Some Iowa schools have been able to create SAMs without adding staff, but by simply redefining existing job descriptions. Others have hired additional staff.

"Our results are really good," he said.

"In my mind, that has made a great difference in our building," says Pam Schulz, SAM at Linn-Mar's Wilkins Elementary School.

Linn-Mar was home to the state's initial three SAM pilots. Now there are SAMs in every school building, Schulz said. She is starting her fourth year as a SAM. She works with custodial and secretarial staff, and supervises educational assistants. She's the first contact for building maintenance issues, student discipline referrals, scheduling and other tasks.

"It has made a big difference in working with students," Schulz said. "We're seeing teachers being able to team and collaborate in ways that they hadn't been able to before, because our principal is able to devote time to those instructional tasks."

By removing day-to-day distractions and allowing principals to focus much more heavily on instruction, SAMs might have a clear, if indirect, impact on instructional quality and student learning.

It's an idea worth pursuing.


Sioux City Journal. Nov. 29, 2012.

Branstad raises valid concerns about GOP straw poll

We give credit to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad for opening a valuable discussion about the future of the Iowa straw poll for Republican presidential candidates.

The state Republican Party, we hope, will consider changes suggested by Branstad.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Branstad said the straw poll has "outlived its usefulness." Last week, Branstad told reporters he supports replacing the event in Ames with a series of regional fundraisers and forums. Branstad believes this new system would be more relevant, more fair, and more inclusive, benefiting both candidates and Iowans who wish to see and hear candidates.

Properly, Branstad's biggest concern is Iowa's first-in-the nation status.

"I'm trying to look to the future to say let's come up with a better system that welcomes all the candidates, that gives people from all parts of the state a chance to participate, and the most important thing is to protect Iowa's first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses and make sure all of the candidates feel welcome to participate in that process," Branstad said.

In light of the fact the last two Republican nominees for president didn't participate in the straw poll and the winner of last year's poll, Michele Bachmann, finished last in the Iowa caucuses and ended her presidential bid the next day, Branstad's concerns about the value of the event would seem valid.

In fact, since Branstad opened the door to criticism of the straw poll, others have joined him.

For example, in an editorial on Monday, the National Review wrote: "Ames does more damage than justice to the nominating process, and ensures that the country's first view of the Grand Old Party's latest presidential crop is through a distorted lens."

On the other hand, state Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker defended the event in a posting to the straw poll's website: "I believe the Iowa Straw Poll is possibly the best way for a presidential campaign to organize (put in place county and precinct leaders & activate them) for Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. I think it is detrimental for any campaign to skip the opportunity presented in Ames and I disagree with Gov. Branstad about ending our Iowa Straw Poll."

We share Branstad's concerns and like the sound of his alternative, but we understand the final call on the straw poll will be made not by Branstad, but by the state Republican Party.

In digesting the comments of Branstad and other straw poll critics, we urge state GOP leaders to embrace open-mindedness.

They should ask themselves: Might a better, more effective way exist to serve the interests of the party, candidates, Iowans and Iowa?

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