Wednesday December 4, 1985

Cedar Valley Times,
Wednesday, December 4, 1985.

Citizens speak in one voice; concern is for the children

Times Editor

VINTON — Vinton citizens, some 550 of whom showed up at a public meeting on a bitter cold Monday night, have united to fight a proposed merger of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School with the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs.

     They waited their turn at the meeting the other night, waited for their turn at the microphone to discuss concerns and ask questions. Most exhibited a knowledge of the Braille school programs and of the school's activities. Others spoke from personal and professional experience. Some simply were not comfortable with information the state had disseminated on the proposed move.

     Joe Flemming spoke from experience. A 1968 graduate of the school, Flemming stepped to the microphone with his wife at his side.

     "Things have changed at the Braille school since that time (his graduation),"he said "Admit it. These kids have potential. This community believes in those kids' potential. There's no better community in which to have the school than this community."

     Flemming has not been dealt an easy hand in life. Besides his obvious handicap, Flemming is currently unemployed. He is an educated man, however, having appeared in City Council chambers on a number of occasions to address issues, pose questions, or just keep tabs on what policies council members may have been considering. He even thought about running for council this past year.

     Flemming has worked as a telephone salesman, a dispatch for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, and as an assistant in an upholstery business.

     "We're making it on one income," he told the audience Monday. "We cut, we're making it work. The state can cut. They can make it work Financially, it doesn't look feasible to me, let alone practical, to even think about moving the school from here to Council Bluffs."

     Flemming thinks a great deal of the Vinton community, and said so the other night "This community cared enough some 130 years ago to donate 55 acres for this school to sit on. Believe me, there's probably few in this crowd who don't realize that and that's another reason we should keep it here."

     Jerry Figg, Washington High School principal, believes the school should stay where it is, too, and he spoke at the Monday night meeting from a professional perspective.

     "The environments that these people have created are precious to the needs.”

     Fry has penned a letter to Gov. Terry Branstad, voicing his opposition to the proposed relocation of the Braille school and while he believes the fight to keep the Braille school in Vinton will be long and difficult, he is certain of one thing.

     “We have to be a united front on this.“ he said ”We have to be one voice It's been a real good effort so far and I think the meeting was very well organized."

     Norm Cruse, executive vice president of Vinton Unlimited, echoed Fry's sentiment, and carried it one step further.

     "We've got to continue with our positive attitude that has been shown by the citizens of this community and we have to build on it," Cruse said "The meeting showed people care I think, now, we have to keep it up, keep the interest up and keep this whole thing before the public."

     Having heard the governor had gone ahead with his announcement of the proposed merger. Cruse said, "The big battle is going to be in the Legislature. At this point, we're still going to hammer the governor. We have to convince him that the move is not in the best interest of the students."

     Cruse was not impressed with the manner m which Branstad has handled the issue, nor is he happy with E. Wayne Richey, executive secretary of the Slate Board oi Regents.

     “I think the governor and Richey and those under him are very insensitive to the needs of those students. He (Branstad) is crazy to come out with a proposal before he's received a recommendation."

     Flemming has an answer, and he informed those at the public meeting of it.

     "Listen, people, next year is an election year," Flemming said, drawing an immediate round of applause. "I'm not going to tell you who to vote for It seems to me that most of these hare-brained ideas have come about in the last year. Let's get together and fight for what we believe in here and make sure this one doesn't become a reality."



Cedar Valley Times,
Wednesday, December 4, 1985.

Dr. Anthony questions cost savings of school move.

VINTON — Gov. Terry Branstad proposed Tuesday the merger of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School with the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs along with an expansive plan to cut expenses and to downsize and reorganize state government. If approved by the Iowa Legislature, the educational program in Vinton would be annexed to the program in Council Bluffs.

     Branstad made the recommendation yesterday, as scheduled, as part of a government reorganizational effort to cut into a projected $107 million deficit.

     He has predicted the merger will save the state $1 million a year, though no study has been produced to back the governor's financial projections.

     The governor also suggested a facility for convicted drunk drivers would serve as a replacement facility here once the Braille school is vacated.

     Monday night in Vinton at a special public meeting to discuss the governor's anticipated announcement, Dr. S.L. Anthony, a practicing physician here and a former school board member, questioned cost savings of the merger.

     Admitting to the estimated 550 persons who turned out on a frigid evening that he is "not an accountant" and adding he was "anxiously awaiting the report" from the State Board of Regents on projected costs, Anthony said the merger would cost the state $3 million immediately. That did not include an estimated $1 million a year over five to seven years to renovate the deaf school of their individual populations," Figg said about the staffs at both the school for the deaf and the Braille school, programs with which he has worked "The physical facilities created here in Vinton have been created specifically for the blind children. The staff at the school for the deaf has worked hard to do the same.

     "It's very difficult if not impossible or nearly so," said Figg, "to combine those two and make it a working environment for those children to feel safe and secure, to learn at their greatest potential.

     His experiences with the deaf, Figg said, show they are "more aggressive, they tend to be more domineering." Similar experiences with the blind have led Figg to characterize them as "not so aggressive, more passive, maybe even more fearful."

     "To mix those two environments and make it a success", Figg concluded, is going to take an incredible amount of time energy and, yes money.

     "If the motivation for this move is money, from my experience it's not right." Figg offered If the motive for this recommendation is for the best educational environment for the deaf students and the blind students, it's not right.”

     Jack Fry an insurance salesman from Vinton, admits he’s not an educator but said today he was not convinced the two special kinds of students could be taught effectively or to their fullest potential in one facility.

     The two don't mix very well, " Fry said "But I'm not an educator."

facilities to accommodate the blind.

     Listing anticipated costs of a merger. Anthony first identified renovation of the deaf school facilities to accommodate the blind as a $1 million item for each year over the next half decade. Renovation would include the construction of a running track similar to the asphalt course at the Vinton school, fixing the swimming pool for the blind, constructing outdoor walkways and underground tunnels, ramps for wheelchair students, and other projects to make the facilities accessible to the handicapped.

     Other costs Anthony listed were

— Moving equipment and records from Vinton to Council Bluffs, $500,000

— Unemployment compensation should all employees at the Braille school choose not to transfer, $800,000

— Provisions for relocation of employees. S600.000

     Lost taxes state and federal withholding, for unemployed $365,000

— Property tax paid by Braille school employees in Benton County, $100,000

— Travel for blind students (blind population center of Iowa is located 250 miles to the east of Council Bluffs), $36,000

— Retraining of employees, $576,000.

Anthony also addressed the “reported" $45,000 cost per pupil at the Braille school, saying the figure "really doesn't mean anything."

     Anthony said there were 285 people who received instruction or training at the school this past year. The Braille school also serves as a repository for blind instructional materials and as the demonstration center for all of Iowa.

     “So those figures are misleading.” said Anthony, conceding it would be cheaper to dump these children somewhere else for $25,000 a year."

     Education is the key to cost savings. Anthony said, and a discussion of economic factors misses the mark. This isn't what we really want to talk about. We want to talk about the education of the blind children and visually impaired children.

     He called the experience of paraprofessionals at the Vinton school training you can't buy" and said the facilities at the Braille school "are ideal for the type of kids who come here. Why switch it someplace else to a facility that won't be as adequate."

     Anthony argued it was far better to provide a quality education for the blind students "It's better for society because most of these kids will be in some situations other than a custodial one. They'll be self-sustaining, self-supporting, at least in a group home, at least in a sheltered workshop."

     He added, "Over a period of time, it's a lot cheaper to give these kids a quality education."