Friday, January 27, 2017

Laurens-Marathon High School to Close

This spring the Laurens-Marathon school district will graduate its last class.  Future students will be sent to Pocahontas once they enter the 9th grade.  Jr-Hi sports will also be supervised by the neighboring district but classes will remain in Laurens.

The decision was made in a 3-2 vote of the school board following four years of turmoil.  It began in 2013 with the resignation of a coach who could not field a team.  It progressed through  multiple opinion surveys, a serious episode of district overspending in violation of state law, the firing of the superintendent, an athletic sharing agreement, a partial day academic sharing agreement, another state notice of non-compliance, contentious negotiations, and a near-reversal of direction to join Sioux Rapids rather than Pocahontas.

The district was also plagued by families who open enrolled their kids elsewhere, some poor "report cards"  handed to the high school and middle school by the Iowa Department of Education, a  defeated school board president in 2013, a board resignation in 2016, and the long- time problems of declining population and Iowa's underfunding of public schools.

The district will remain independent.  Its contract with Pocahontas Area Community School District is for five years.  The board made clear to PAC that they did not expect to proceed toward consolidation.  The contract renews automatically in two year increments unless one district wants to interrupt that process.

L-M now becomes only the second public school in Iowa to have an enrollment that stops at eighth grade.  Other independent schools such as Albert City-Truesdale stop at sixth grade.  AC-T has been without its upper grades for 13 years.

The last act for L-M  came on January 23, 2017.  A special meeting was held to hear public opinion in the hour before the vote was scheduled.  The school library was filled by as many adults as there are kids in the high school.  There was only minor resistance to the proposed agreement.  The principle attitude was one of resignation.

After 75 minutes of discussion the board voted.  Pete Runneberg moved to approve the deal.  It was seconded by Chuck Harrold and supported by Dorothy Lamberti, a new face on the board.  President  Matt Tate and long-time member Deb Kenobbie voted against the contract as they had done in a preliminary meeting with the PAC board on January 9.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wet Ground Fails to Sell at Havelock Auction

Nearly thirty bidders in the Havelock Amvets hall today offered only two bids for farmland adjoining the town to the northeast.  Neither bid came close to the seller's reserve.

The auctioneer from Farmer's National said he had been offered $4000 per acre for the land when he opened the bidding.  He soon garnered a bid for $4100 but that was it.

After a recess he said the Lloyd Peterson trust sellers wanted $7200 for the 146 acres.  No one would bid that much.

The land is a mile from the drainage ditch west of town.  The sale bill says a large county tile line already exists on the property.  The land has no legal restrictions regarding drainage potential.

Under the CSR II regime the property is rated at nearly 83.  It is largely Canisteo, Webster, and Nicollet soils which rate at 86 or better on CSR II.  The CSR ratings assume optimal tiling.  This property also has more than ten percent of its acres in Knoke and Okoboji soils which rate only 55 even on the more generous CSR II scale.

One neighbor commented that at least the field has a crop this year.  Last year about a third of it was drowned out, he said.  Another farmer reported an auction yesterday in Pocahontas had the same result--no sale--on land that is said to always be either drowned out or burnt up.

Just before the sale corn at the local Pro Co-op had closed at $3.91, nearly the highest it has been since harvest.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Iowa Starves Rural Schools

An editorial in the Pocahontas Record-Democrat last week said the PAC School should help Laurens-Marathon deal with its red ink. Indeed! The two school districts-- and all their neighboring districts-- should tell the Iowa legislature to change Iowa school funding laws.

Iowa starves its small schools until they collapse into the arms of a slightly larger neighbor. Then the combined district begins to suffer the same fate. It doesn't have to be this way.

Other states treat rural areas better. Oregon just established a special fund for high schools with fewer than 350 students. Nebraska offers help to any elementary school that is more than seven miles from the next elementary school. Texas sends extra money to rural districts that exceed 300 square miles. Iowa could pass any of these measures. It should pass all three.

Instead the Iowa legislature limits how much a school can spend. The limit is based on enrollment. This is unrealistic for rural areas where population has been declining for three generations. At this rate eventually we will have to send all our kids to Fort Dodge to school.

The only thing the Iowa legislature does for small schools is help them commit suicide, offering to pay for the morphine and the funeral. But what becomes of the towns left behind? Do they still have dentists or drug stores? Do they have grocery stores? Do young families buy houses there? Do employers move away, too?

School consolidation is not a solution for rural Iowa---it is part of the problem. Only the legislature can fix it. Let's ask our Representative Shaw and our Senator Beall to address this challenge. It's better than leaving rural kids and small school boards twisting in the wind.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Albert City Farmland: $11,500/Acre

An overflow crowd gathered at the Albert City town hall this morning for an auction of flat farmland. Eighty acres within sight of the Valero ethanol plant opened at $8000 and passed $10,000 within the first minute. The land is available for the purchaser to farm this spring. Sellers Everett and Sandra Nordine will pay the property taxes due next month, but the buyer must pay for fertilizer already applied since harvest.

The bidding stopped at $11,500/acre. The land has a corn suitability rating of 77.2. This means it sold for nearly $149/point, far above recent auctions reported on this website.

On sale day corn was about $6.15 and beans about $12.08 in local cash markets.

Friday, September 9, 2011

L-M School Shows Higher Test Scores

A year ago the Laurens-Marathon school was declared to be "in need of assistance" under the federal No Child Left Behind law. This year the school has fared better.

The Iowa Department of Education released its annual list of schools this week. If schools do not meet an ever-rising set of standards in graduation rates, reading and math scores, and attendance, they can be added to the list. The L-M elementary and middle schools were added last year because they had not made so-called adequate yearly progress in reading scores for two consecutive years.

But this year they did raise those standardized test scores. If L-M scores high enough again next year they will escape the list. A third of Iowa schools are on the list. More get added every year. Ultimately all schools will be on the list because the standards are higher every year. The 2014 standards set by the federal NCLB law are widely considered unattainable. The law has caused considerable anxiety among educators and has boosted the standing of private schools who are not governed by the law.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Laurens Farmland Auctioned at $8980/Acre

An eighty acre farm field near Laurens sold today for $8980 per acre. The auction was held at the Amvets Hall in Havelock. About fifty people attended.

The property is bordered on two sides by roadways, leaving 76 acres of crops. Its corn suitability rating (CSR) is 80.2 which is high for Iowa farmland. The bid price is $112 per CSR point. Early this spring land at Rolfe sold for $101 per CSR point. Earlier this month Pocahontas land was auctioned at $106 per CSR point.

The land lies southeast of Laurens. It was owned by the children of Mary Kees and has been farmed by Bill and Christie Mather. It was purchased by Cindy Dubbert who lives nearby.

During the auction the price of corn was near $7 a bushel at the local markets. Soybeans were near $13. Both markets were up from the previous week.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pocahontas Farm Auction: $8900/Acre

An eighty acre tract of flat farmland five miles south and four miles east of Pocahontas was auctioned this morning for $8900/acre. It was the Hermon Tjaden property, currently farmed by tenant Bob Beneke. The 2001 cash rent is $15,400, according the auctioneer's statement today.

Bidding was brisk. The auctioneer, Lowderman Auction and Real Estate, said there would be no breaks or timeouts. However he did pause after about five minutes of bidding to acknowledge the property "can be a little wet." Five minutes later the auction was complete.

The land is 80% Webster soil. The tract has a corn suitability rating (CSR) near 84. Pocahontas County's average CSR is only 74. The CSR system assumes drain tile has been added wherever necessary.

Dividing the bid price by the CSR yields a ratio of $106 per CSR point. Earlier this spring a 120 acre Rolfe parcel sold for $101 per CSR point.

One audience member left the auction saying, "I'm going home to put up some For Sale signs."

On auction day the local price for corn was $7.31; for soybeans, $13.75. Both prices are higher than in March when the Rolfe auction occurred.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Use for Rock Island RR Right of Way?

Updated within.

A vague plan to revive the old Rock Island Railroad right of way (perhaps) through Pocahontas County will be considered at several area public meetings this week. One will be held in Pocahontas on Friday.

The new use is for electric transmission lines to carry wind power out of the state. It is called the Rock Island Clean Line. It is one of several proposals being considered by various parties who want to profit from wind turbines.

Update: It became clear at the open house that poetic license has been used in naming the project after the Rock Island. The new power lines will not follow the old railroad lines. In fact towns will avoided as much as possible. As with the original Rock Island, the new lines run southeast from this area. Another similarity is that both the railroad and the electric lines serve a similar purpose--getting rural resources to urban markets. The railroads carried grain and livestock. The electric lines will carry wind power.

The Rock Island Railroad dissolved in bankruptcy in the early 1980s. One of its routes ran from Watertown, S.D, to Des Moines, passing through Laurens, Pocahontas, and Manson. In this area it was mostly converted to farmland. The Laurens hiking trail now occupies the old railroad route on the south side of town.

Another set of tracks ran through Estherville, Emmetsburg, Livermore,and Cedar Rapids.

Thursdays hearing will be at the Pocahontas Expo Center, 8am-10am. It is hosted by Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas. This is a chance for us to learn their plans and for them to gauge our hospitality or hostility to the possibility of a new transmission line through the county.

Similar hearings are in Storm Lake, Spencer, Emmetsburg, Cherokee and Paullina beginning Tuesday, May 31. Comments may be submitted on line here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Arrested Leaving Laurens

One cold January night a young man left Laurens with a small amount of marijuana hidden in his car. He drove straight into the hands of the law. On May 24 he was sentenced to six months in the county jail. The sentence was suspended and replaced with probation.

He is 18-year-old Kevin Bergen of Albert City. He was stopped by sheriff deputy Brian Runneberg. According to court papers Runneberg pulled Bergen over as he was turning from N-28 toward Albert City because Runneberg "recognized the vehicle and had knowledge that the plates were expired." Deputy Runneberg also reported Bergen's car "has been parked at a known house in Laurens with drug activity."

Runneberg asked permission to search Bergen's car but Bergen initially declined, according to Runneberg's report of the incident. Later Bergen agreed to a search. Runneberg found no contraband. Nevertheless he impounded the car, telling Bergen "that since the vehicle wasn't registered to him and had no proof of insurance and expired plates that the vehicle was going to be towed." Later a dog found a "small" amount of marijuana in the air vent of the car.

Bergen's driver's license was suspended after his guilty plea to the misdemeanor crime of possession of marijuana. He has been ordered to pay court costs and to accept treatment from Community and Family Resources of Fort Dodge.

Iowa's court system spends about a million dollars a week on marijuana cases. An estimated 20% of young Iowa adults use marijuana every year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Municipal Cable Puts Laurens On Map

Laurens has been put on the map, thanks to its city-wide municipal cable and broadband service. Few communities on the US have such a system to protect themselves from "a looming broadband monopoly." Laurens built its hybrid fiber optic and coaxial cable system in 1998. The map was created and published last month.

In some states it is illegal to create a broadband service that is owned by the public, due to legislation pushed by corporations such as Comcast and AT & T.

Eighteen other Iowa towns are on the map as well, including Spencer, Storm Lake, Algona, Mapleton, Sanborn, Orange City, and Coon Rapids. Only some 78 cities appear along with Laurens. An additional 54 cities on the map have even better public systems which offer the gold standard--fiber optics into the home.

Together these 133 municipalities serve three million people (just one percent of the USA), according to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.

From the report:
. . it appears that the federal government is
unwilling to stand up to powerful corporations to defend the public good. This is where community owned networks come in. The citizens and businesses in each of the towns on our map have a network that will offer access to the open Internet– because they own the network and they make the rules for it.

The report alleges that elsewhere in the US "Comcast owns the internet" because it owns so much of the infrastructure over which traffic must flow.

The report continues:
Wireless providers may increasingly compete with DSL networks, but cable networks will continue to offer higher capacity connections than either.

Laurens Municipal Power & Communications has a website that details its history and rates for services.