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Bus stop moved after morning crash

WATERLOO — Officials are moving a bus stop along U.S. Highway 218/Washington Street where a school bus was involved in a five-vehicle accident Wednesday morning.

“Upon reviewing the stop, our next step to be proactive, that stop is being moved,” said Kate Walden, a spokesperson for Durham School Services, which runs bus services for the Waterloo Community School District.

No students were aboard the bus, which had stopped to pick up students at the apartment complex in the 1400 block of Washington Street about 6:48 a.m. Wednesday, officials said. At least two people were taken to an area hospital, but authorities said the injuries aren’t considered serious.

Walden said the bus had come to a stop and lit up its eight-way flashers when it was struck.

In addition to the bus, the crash involved a grain truck and three passenger vehicles, according to police. The collision shut down a portion of southbound Washington Street for part of the morning.

Neighbors and motorists had expressed concerns with the location of the bus stop, which sits on the busy three-lane southbound stretch of Highway 218 where the speed limit is 45 mph. The school bus halts traffic during pickup and drop off times.

On Wednesday following the crash, Walden said Durham has decided to move the location of the bus stop to a driveway at nearby Lowell Elementary School.

“The driver will pick up the students at Lowell Elementary, so the students will meet the bus at that location moving forward. … They are actually going to pull into the school,” Walden said.

Iowa educators warn K-12 budget plan will lead to cuts

DES MOINES — A K-12 education spending plan moving through the Iowa Legislature will not keep up with rising annual costs for school districts, warned some superintendents who say they’ll have to make cuts to balance their budgets.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled chambers voted Wednesday to approve $32 million in new K-12 public school funding for the budget year beginning in July. That’s a 1 percent increase to Iowa’s $3.2 billion K-12 budget, the largest expenditure in a roughly $7.2 billion state budget. Per-pupil spending would go up by $67, totaling $6,731, according to the data.

The Senate voted to add another $14 million to address inequities in funding for transportation costs and per-pupil money. The bill goes back to the House, which is expected to act on the measure today.

Across the state, superintendents said they were planning to make cuts to balance their budgets.

In Marshalltown, the school district will see a reduction of up to $300,000 because of mandatory increases in utilities, wages and other expenses, said Superintendent Theron Schutte. The district will consider cuts to its administrative budget to avoid reductions to teacher staffing and curriculum offerings.

Schutte said the small increase is still better than the district had expected.

“We’re certainly not celebrating that,” he said. “It’s still going to lead to us having to take a more serious look at positions.”

The Fairfield Community School District in southeastern Iowa faces a shortfall of about $100,000 next academic year in part because of declining enrollment, said Superintendent Laurie Noll. She added the district has cut nearly $2 million from its budget over the last few years, including closing one of its three elementary schools.

“We are very lean already, and to have no new money, it will impact us again,” she said. “We’ll have to see where we can cut.”

Republicans maintain funding for Iowa’s roughly 330 school districts is adequate given the state’s budget constraints. They note K-12 education hasn’t experienced budget cuts despite mid-year reductions to other areas of state government in recent years.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, spoke in support of the budget plan before Wednesday’s 57-40 House vote. He said GOP lawmakers are working on other education-related proposals that will give districts more spending flexibility, such as the extra money for transportation costs in rural areas.

“When we consider the entire education package the majority is putting forward, most if not all of my school districts are pleased and maybe even somewhat surprised that we’re able to commit 1 percent new money,” he said.

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds has indicated she will support the funding pitched by her party, though it’s less than the $54 million she’d proposed.

Rep. Walt Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, challenged longstanding warnings from superintendents more money is needed to avoid larger class sizes. He said the latest student-teacher ratio in Iowa is acceptable, and he defended the funding.

“I’m proud of the numbers that we have put forth and what we’re doing for education,” he said.

Dan Maeder, superintendent of Davis County Community School District in Bloomfield, said his district’s elementary school has up to 28 students in some classrooms.

“If we want to lead the nation in education, we need to fund it like we mean it,” he said.

Superintendents also said they’re dealing with financial obligations that include increased spending for employee retirement plans. Contribution rates for employers and employees in the state’s main retirement system, known as IPERS, will increase on July 1.

In northwestern Iowa, Estherville Lincoln Central Community School District Superintendent Tara Paul said she expects to receive roughly $92,000 in additional money for the next school year under the GOP plan. The new cost toward IPERS is a little over $53,000, leaving about $38,000 for staffing, textbooks, transportation, insurance and other costs. Those costs increase an average of 3 percent each year, Paul said.

“This is not for the frills or the extras, but to keep the buildings open and the district running year to year,” she said in an email.

Des Moines Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, expects to cut more than $11 million from its budget.

“Given our size the dollar amounts we’re looking at are large, but every school district in Iowa is going to be facing these same decisions to one degree or another,” said district spokesman Phil Roeder.

Senate celebrates budget deal — but shutdown still possible

WASHINGTON — Senate leaders brokered a long-sought budget agreement Wednesday that would shower the Pentagon and domestic programs with an extra $300 billion over the next two years. But both Democratic liberals and GOP tea party forces swung against the plan, raising questions about its chances just a day before the latest government shutdown deadline.

The measure was a win for Republican allies of the Pentagon and for Democrats seeking more for infrastructure projects and combatting opioid abuse. But it represented a bitter defeat for many liberal Democrats who sought to use the party’s leverage on the budget to resolve the plight of immigrant “Dreamers” who face deportation after being brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The deal does not address immigration.

Beyond the $300 billion figure, the agreement adds almost $90 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Senate leaders hope to approve the measure today and send it to the House for a confirming vote before the government begins to shut down at midnight today. But hurdles remain to avert the second shutdown in a month.

While Senate Democrats celebrated the moment of rare bipartisanship — Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a “genuine breakthrough” — progressives and activists blasted them for leaving immigrants in legislative limbo. Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California, herself a key architect of the budget plan, announced her opposition Wednesday morning and mounted a remarkable daylong speech on the House floor, trying to force GOP leaders in the House to promise a later vote on legislation to protect the younger immigrants.

“Let Congress work its will,” Pelosi said, before holding the floor for more than eight hours without a break. “What are you afraid of?”

The White House backed the deal — despite President Donald Trump’s outburst a day earlier that he’d welcome a government shutdown if Democrats didn’t accept his immigration-limiting proposals.

Trump himself tweeted that the agreement “is so important for our great Military,” and he urged both Republicans and Democrats to support it.

But the plan faced criticism from deficit hawks in his own party.

Some tea party Republicans shredded the measure as a budget-buster. Combined with the party’s December tax cut bill, the burst in military and other spending would put the GOP-controlled government on track for the first $1 trillion-plus deficits since President Barack Obama’s first term. That’s when Congress passed massive stimulus legislation to try to stabilize a down-spiraling economy.

“It’s too much,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a fiscal hawk.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., however, backed the agreement and was hoping to cobble together a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans to push it through.

Despite the 77-year-old Pelosi’s public talkathon, she was not pressuring the party’s rank-and-file to oppose the measure, Democrats said. The deal contains far more money demanded by Democrats than had seemed possible only weeks ago, including $90 billion in disaster aid for Florida and Texas. Some other veteran Democrats — some of whom said holding the budget deal hostage to action on Dreamer immigrants had already proven to be a failed strategy — appeared more likely to support the agreement than junior progressives elected in recent years.

The budget agreement would give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze that lawmakers say threatens military readiness and training as well as domestic priorities such as combating opioid abuse and repairing the troubled health care system for veterans.

The core of the agreement would shatter tight “caps” on defense and domestic programs funded by Congress each year. They are a hangover from a failed 2011 budget agreement and have led to military readiness problems and caused hardship at domestic agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the IRS.

The agreement would give the Pentagon an $80 billion increase for the current budget year for core defense programs, a 14 percent increase over current limits and $26 billion more than Trump’s budget request. Nondefense programs would receive about $60 billion over current levels. Those figures would be slightly increased for the 2019 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

“For the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It will help us serve the veterans who have bravely served us. And it will ensure funding for important efforts such as disaster relief, infrastructure and building on our work to fight opioid abuse and drug addiction.”

The $90 billion in disaster aid would bring the total appropriated in the wake of last year’s hurricane season to almost $140 billion.

The agreement would increase the government’s borrowing cap to prevent a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. The debt limit would be suspended through March of 2019.

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through March 23, marrying the stopgap spending measure with a $659 billion Pentagon spending plan, but the Senate plan would rewrite that measure.

Cedar Falls moving forward with public safety setup

CEDAR FALLS — The city is stepping up its game in hiring, equipping and training public safety officers.

A total of 16 public safety officers recently began cross-training in fire services, Public Safety Director Jeff Olson said.

When they complete that training —which takes almost a year — the city will have a firefighting force of 36 public safety officers and 26 full-time career firefighters.

That’s the most ever, Olson said. In 1979, the city had a peak of 40 full-time firefighters. At that time the fire department also staffed dispatching and handled ambulance calls. Sartori Memorial Hospital paramedics took over that service in the early 1980s.

The 16-member training class is the largest so far. It includes newly sworn in public safety officers — four were sworn in at a City Council meeting this week — as well as longtime police staff who wanted to be cross-trained. Those officers also add to police staffing.

Cedar Falls officials picked up some ideas during a trip last month to Kalamazoo, Mich. The city of 74,000 has had a fully cross-trained public safety department since the mid-1980s, with some officers dedicated primarily to police or fire. The city is home to Western Michigan University.

Based on that visit, Olson said Cedar Falls may consider, in the short term, providing all cross-trained public safety officers with fire equipment in their patrol cars, including self-contained breathing apparatus for entering smoke-filled structures.

Another idea is using a specially equipped SUV for a public safety officer to provide fire or emergency medical services on quick notice — faster than rolling full fire truck out of a fixed station, Olson said.

“We’ll definitely look at both of those this year, by the first half of the year,” Olson said. The city already has compressed air foam units for fire suppression in the back of some police SUVs.

“All the stuff we got from there (Kalamazoo) helped us. We’re headed the right way, but it gave us a lot of tips,” Olson said.

Jim Cook, president of the Cedar Falls Firefighters Association representing unionized firefighters, said he was impressed by the Kalamazoo operation but noted the community is nearly twice the size of Cedar Falls with four times the budget and a large training facility.

Cook said more emphasis needs to be placed on training, and firefighters would like to see more training elements in a public safety building. He said firefighters believe a corps of dedicated career firefighters, supplemented by cross-trained public safety officers, is the best option.

Along those lines, council member Rob Green voted earlier this week against eliminating a vacant city fire services position.

“I can’t support eliminating this position, as I’ve not been convinced that a PSO is a one-for-one replacement for a career firefighter,” said Green, who ran on that issue when elected to the council in November.

The public safety model will be helped by construction over the coming year of a new public safety building, Olson said. Fire, police and public safety officers will be under the same roof at South Main Street and Bluebell Road, the site of the existing south fire station.

Cedar Falls safety building approved

CEDAR FALLS — The City Council on Monday night gave the green light for a new public safety building in the southern part of the city to headquarter fire and police operations.

“We’ll be working together more,” he said. “There’s a lot to be said about bumping into somebody in the hallway and just having a conversation,” he said.

In a separate matter, the City Council this week approved the purchase of a new fire truck from Toyne Manufacturing of Breda for $524,000. Delivery is anticipated in about year. The city currently has three fire trucks and the oldest model, built in 1989, will be kept in reserve. General obligation bonds will pay for the bulk of the cost.