School teaches taxpayers an expensive lesson

Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart has been a lightning rod during the past three years over the way Iowa’s public schools have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.Ahart announced last week that he is leaving, effective June 30. But the Des Moines school board ensured that Ahart will continue to carry that lightning rod for a little longer.His contract runs for another year, until June 30, 2023. So, you might think he is forgoing his $306,193 salary, his $7,200 annual allowance for a car and cell phone, and his $84,019 taxpayer-provided retirement annuity.But you would be wrong, wrong and wrong.Even though he will not be employed by the Des Moines schools after June 30, Ahart will still be paid every nickel, every dime and every dollar that he would have received had he chosen to work those 12 months left on his contract.This means Ahart will be paid as much to relax fulltime as he would have been paid to work fulltime.The lucrative “severance agreement” was approved by the Des Moines school board during a special board meeting two days after he announced his resignation. The meeting lasted two minutes. Yes, two minutes — and it included time to call the roll, approve the agenda and vote on the agreement.No one asked any questions.

Evans: Charter schools must have sunshine, too

The 2021 session of the Iowa Legislature will end in a few weeks, and one big issue moving toward a final vote would make charter schools easier to create as an alternative to the traditional K-12 public schools. Others can debate the pros and cons of charter schools and House File 813, the bill that is awaiting debate and a vote in the Senate. That’s not my purpose here today. But I want to sound a cautionary note:

If the Legislature wants to make it easier to establish these independent schools and provide them with state tax money to operate, then lawmakers should amend House File 813 to ensure these schools are subject to Iowa’s public records laws. As written, the bill already states that meetings of the charter schools’ boards of directors would have to be open to the public.

Evans: Something for Legislature’s ‘to do’ list

There is a retired businessman in western Iowa who bristles every time he reads a newspaper article from somewhere in our state about government officials who have misused their government credit cards for unauthorized purchases. This man is worried such abuses could be happening at the local county hospital since top administrators were given credit cards to use. His concern grew when he learned the hospital’s board of directors does not see an itemized bill from the credit card company with each of the month’s transactions listed. Instead, board members only see a lump sum total they are asked to approve for payment. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS
Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.