Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 389 - Feb. 14

Feb. 14, 6:30 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 9:30 p.m. (SILO links added)

EXTRA (11:45 a.m.): Meredith Hay one of two with faculty support for University of New Mexico presidency. See Susie Gran, "Hay Wins Faculty Approval," Albuquerque Tribune, February 14, 2007

Johnson County Sends Plugge Big Valentine

Neighbors Put $104 Million in His SILO on Snowy Day

Editorial Writers Say Now His Problems Begin

I predicted SILO would pass by about 70% in Johnson County. It ended up being 67.3% (counting the 70% absentee ballots checked "Yes"). It's a great example of what can be accomplished when the trade unions and teachers and business community work together, and those pushing the proposition are entitled to be proud of this political accomplishment -- especially on a snowy day.

Sadly, however, a quick scan of the results from the 57 Johnson County precincts suggests many folks may have been voting their economic interests. Individuals who would never support a 20% increase in income taxes, or property taxes, or estate taxes, were enthusiastic about a 20% increase in sales taxes -- especially since it could be characterized, as the Press-Citizen quotes Superintendent Plugge as saying, as "support of the children of the community."

However, the class-based thrust of the tax shift was apparently not lost on those who knew it was they who would be expected to pick up a disproportionate share of the slack. Of the 57 precincts 17 voted less than 55% support; of those, 8 rejected the proposition (i.e., less than 50% voted for it). A bond issue would require 60% approval to pass; had that been the standard this proposition would still have passed -- in terms of county totals -- but 20 of the 57 precincts would have voted it down.

And, as Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan has noted, we've already been very generous with the tax shift to developers and other businesses: "Almost $700 million in taxable property is not available to the General Fund due to Tax Increment Financing (TIF). This has a huge impact on the amount of tax dollars the county has available." (If you're not reading his "Sullivan's Salvos" drop him an email at and get on the free distribution list. It's some of the consistently best public official weekly commentary out there.)

Sales tax hikes, TIFs, it's all just more evidence of the modern day translation of the Golden Rule, whether in Washington, Des Moines -- or even Iowa City: "Those who have the gold make the rules." Suck it up, accept it; that's the way it is.

The Gazette's "Greater Expectations" editorial, quotes the old line, "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it." It notes, "This influx of new money . . . may set the stage for prolonging difficult but necessary decisions to make meaningful reforms in public education at the local level" and "has the potential to promulgate inefficiencies [as districts] lose track of the actual costs of school . . . projects." It concludes, "Ten years from now . . . [when today's kindergarteners] are completing their 10th grade, will they have a better grasp on fundamental skills than today's 10th graders because of this infusion of taxpayer money into an outdated education system? . . . One thing is certain: The expectations already are higher."

It's a sentiment echoed by the Press-Citizen's Bob Patton in his cartoon this morning. Under the caption ". . . Now for the tricky part" he shows a high hurdler named "Taxpayers" who has just cleared the hurdle labeled "Approve SILO" headed for the next one -- about 15 feet high -- labeled "Hold SILO Fund-Spenders Accountable." (The editorial cartoon, as of this morning, was the top item on his blog, "Patton's Pad.") The accompanying editorial, headlined "Eyes Are Now on Districts to Spend the Funds Wisely," continues the message. As a sign the editorial writers may know what they're talking about, The Daily Iowan concludes its story reporting on the election: "[ICCSD School Board President Toni] Cilek said the next step for the board will be to hire a consultant to determine the needs of the district and help responsibly allocate funds." "A consultant to determine the needs"??!! Well, at least now the Board has the money to pay consultants to do its job for it.

Other News, Comments

Mary Gilchrist. There was some indication after Gilchrist's testimony Monday that there might be a decision handed down yesterday. So far as I am aware there's nothing to report on that front. However, it looks like she may have already made some progress toward one of her goals. As I understood her position, it was that a lab with responsibility for the public health of Iowans -- whatever its relationship with the University might be -- should operate under a revised governance structure in which it would report through some state agency to the Governor (rather than through the UI Vice President for Research, then the President, then the Board of Regents, and then the Governor). My instinct is that it's a sensible suggestion. (I formerly served as a co-director of something called the UI Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy.) But I haven't really researched the matter or heard a well-informed presentation of the reasons not to do that. In any event, it's now being advanced by an Iowa legislator, and the Daily Iowan offers editorial support for the idea this morning ("Transfer of Hygienic Lab from UI to state oversight would benefit all").

Regents. The Des Moines Register reports this morning that there are already 50 people who've applied to become members of the Iowa Board of Regents, that Governor Culver expects as many as 15 more, but that he had not yet finally decided whether he'll reappoint any whose terms are expiring -- and absolutely not a peep out of him with regard to what he proposes to do about Michael Gartner ("50 Pursue Open Regents Spot"). In some ways the most interesting aspect of the story (mentioned, but certainly not emphasized) is that the Register just routinely got ahold of, and looked through, some 500 applications to the Governor from people wanting various jobs, and was able to publish such of the names as it thought newsworthy. And now, please, someone explain to me why it is that the applications of those seeking jobs from the Governor are public records (and therefore material that can/must be discussed in open meetings) but that those applying to Search Committee II for the job as president of a state university are confidential, cannot be revealed, and will be discussed only in secret, closed meetings? (I don't mean to pass judgment; I'm assuming there is an explanation. When I get some time I may research it myself.)

No Exploratory Committee. State29 is running me for U.S. Senate [State29, "Tom Harkin is Fundraising for Re-Election in 2008," February 12, 2007]:

"I'm not even going to guess who's a good Republican to run against Harkin, because frankly I think there aren't any in Iowa. They're all a bunch of inbred losers in the Statehouse. And running Jim Ross Nussle or some religious type against Harkin would be an unmitigated disaster. Nussle would be creamed. Harkin's fight would have to be on the Democratic side, in the primary. And who do I think would be a good choice for that?

"Nicholas Johnson.

"He'd never do it, but he's the kind of guy who I think could beat Harkin. Especially in this current political climate."

I haven't formed my exploratory committee yet. Can't find anyone but State29 who's willing to serve, and nobody knows who or where State29 is.

Response to Comments. This blog is blessed with some very solid folks who put in comments from time to time. If you're not reading them, do so. They often cause me to rethink my positions on issues. Here are some responses to recent comments.

Anon77 makes the point (in response to my SILO comments) that (1) folks are becoming disaffected with the "marketplace can solve all problems" philosophy, (2) globalization requires more and better education, and (3) schools are the backbone of any community. I agree on all counts; but that was not (in my view) the issue. The issue: (a) What, precisely, are the needs and how do they relate to improved student learning (ala The Gazette editorial this morning)? (b) To what extent has a school district demonstrated its knowledge of, and at least pilot project adoption of, "best practices" that can improve outputs while reducing costs? What is its record on efficiency and cost cutting, consolidation of districts, etc.? (c) What systems of accountability does it have in place? What are its measurable goals? How is it doing on achieving them? What kind of management information reporting system does it utilize? (d) Finally, what are the most efficient and equitable means of raising the necessary funds? My first choice: Income tax. Second choice: Property tax paying down bonds. Last choice: sales tax. And just one of the advantages of bonds is that it keeps both public and school administrators precisely focused on needs and costs -- rather than, to refer back to The Daily Iowan's story this morning, "a consultant to determine the needs."

With regard to what I've written about the need for a new Johnson County Jail, and the use of prisons for housing (and CBS 60 Minutes reports, abusing, even killing) the mentally ill, John Neff and "John Barleykorn" point out the ways in which we're already avoiding these problems locally.

And Anonymous noted the State29 suggestion to which I responded above.

Search Committee II. Patton's Pad, referenced above, also displays the "UI News Cartoon Caption Contest from Feb. 6." It pictures a help wanted classified ad: "Professional. The University of Iowa President." Under "Qualifications" is: "Must be able to fit under Regents' thumb." Funny? Yeah, Patton's always good. But he's also always on target. This is a very real problem confronting Search Committee II, as I've written about before. To see it, go to his blog, "Patton's Pad," and scroll down about two-thirds of the way.

And see the discussion in "Regents," above, regarding the seeming disparity between the lack of confidentiality accorded the applications of those who have applied to the Governor to become members of the Board of Regents and those who have applied to the Regents to become President of the University of Iowa. (When I find the explanation I'll let you know.)

Well, that's all for now. The links to stories may need to wait until this evening.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

These blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.

Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.)

For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006.

My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.

Searching: the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References." A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

SILO Stories and Editorials, February 14, 2007
. Kurt Hiatt, "Tax hike sails," The Daily Iowan
. Abby Simons, "Local-Option Sales Tax Now Backed Statewide," Des Moines Register
. Editorial, "Greater Expectations," The Gazette
. Lyle Muller, "Corridor Approves School Tax," The Gazette
. Editorial, "Eyes Are Now on Districts to Spend Funds Wisely," Iowa City Press-Citizen
. Rob Daniel, "Voters Approve SILO Sales Tax," Iowa City Press-Citizen


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