Tuesday December 3, 1985

Cedar Valley Times
Tuesday, December 3, 1985

Community condemns Braille school move

Branstad blasted for political posturing

Times Editor

VINTON— Politics, local officials say, is the name of Gov. Terry Branstad's game in proposing a merger of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School with the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, and a replacement facility to be housed in the Braille school here in Vinton is only a carrot on a string.

     While temperatures plunged to minus readings last night, the temperature was fiery hot inside the Tilford Middle School Auditorium during a public meeting on the proposed move of the Braille school to Council Bluffs. And while Gov. Branstad was not in attendance, his name was mentioned frequently.

     Two area politicians took their turns at the podium Monday night One is a Republican, Kyle Hummel, this area's representative to the Iowa House, and he addressed his comments to the issues of educational priorities and the "deplorable" handling of the matter by the governor. The other is a Democrat, Emil Husak, this area's senator in the Iowa Senate, and he talked about the governor's political motivation and the drunk driver work camp "carrot" that would replace the Braille school here.

     Both elected officials flatly criticized the governor before a packed house.

     The one concern I have above all others is the fact the governor has proposed very strongly that he intends to proceed with the move of the Braille school to Council Bluffs," said Hummel in his opening remarks "The concern I have at this time is that the statement is premature. With all the respect for the governor and the people working on the program. I do not believe they are getting their priorities in proper order."

     Priority No. l, Hummel said, should be the educational program for the Braille school students.

     Citing per pupil cost at the Braille school. Hummel said, "Even if the figures were correct, even if we did in fact spend $45,000 for each of those students. I would be hard pressed to allow our legislative colleagues to use that as the determining factor in closing (the Braille school).

     "We spend over $20,000 per inmate per year for 2,800 inmates housed in the state of Iowa." said Hummel, and I just cannot believe the 63 students (at the Braille school) who cost us $45,000 is a subject I am willing to discuss or that I am willing to concede to balance the budget of the state of Iowa."

     The proposed re-location of the Braille school is one piece in a huge plan by Branstad to reorganize and downsize state government. The governor anticipates spending cuts to match a projected budget deficit of $107 million at the end of this fiscal year

     Hummel, drawing from a copyrighted story in Sunday's Des Moines Register that stated the governor will propose today the merger of the school for the blind and the school for the deaf, criticized Branstad for putting the cart before the horse.

     "The concern I have and the frustration that I have is that prior to having all of the facts, prior to having the committee's report, prior to determining in fact what the costs are, prior to answering all of the questions raised, the governor has determined that he is in fact going to make that decision (to move the Braille school) and make it a part of his message to the Legislature."

     Later, after hearing from a state official that the proposed merger had been under study since 1979, Hummel became livid.

     "The thing that really angers me- I 'm getting a little perturbed, you know, I'm really getting frustrated – if we've been studying this thing since 1979 I don't know why in the name of heaven that the governor has to make a recommendation in the newspaper and they tell me they're waiting for the information They haven't said a thing about the impact that this is going to have on the education of these children, on the programs that we have up here.

     " I mean, really, if they've been doing this (since 1979) why didn't we have all of the facts laid out so the governor could make his decision predicated on those facts. It just behooves me to see why he is doing things like this and I think we deserve a response from the governor on why he's handled this in the manner he has I think it's terrible."

     Hummel stabbed at a projected increase in employment at a facility for convicted drunk drivers in Vinton compared to the 117 fulltime employees at the Braille school now.

     Citing a corrections study. Hummel said, "That study says the number of employees for an institution with 200 beds, which is what is being considered, would employ 45 people. And the governor came out in the paper and was quoted as saying that there would be at least as many jobs or more jobs. To me that's just one more instance of not having your facts before you start playing a game. And I don't like that and I think it's really deplorable."

     Time after time speakers were interrupted by audience applause, and Husak was a welcome participant in last night's discussions.

     Speaking about Branstad's proposal for a replacement facility for the Braille school, Husak got straight to his point.

     "Folks, that's a carrot that's being hung out in front of you," Husak said "I also know there are some very influential legislators down there (in Des Moines) who have told some of us that they would like to have that sort of facility in their district. So you're not the first one that's had that carrot hanging in front of you Bear that in mind."

     Husak also told the audience that a replacement facility was merely a compromise, adding, "Folks, this is not the time to compromise."

     Addressing the governor's plan, Husak said, "This plan is pure political posturing It's who has the votes, folks, and we have to prove that the education at the Braille school is a priority. This is a political posture and I think somebody is waiting to see what you say."

     Husak, who serves as assistant majority leader in the Iowa Senate, encouraged citizens in attendance last night to continue their fight to keep the Braille school in Vinton.

     "Don't just stop here." Husak said “This is only a start." He also assured the audience that the governor and other proponents of the planned merger of the Braille and deaf schools "are not getting a cherry" in either himself or Hummel.

     "Perhaps they think they are dealing with somebody who doesn't care," said Husak about the governor and his colleagues "But looking about tonight, I believe you all care and I think you are all ready for some action."