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NEWSCAST 3.06.24: Sioux City teachers seeking 4.5 percent raises; Iowa House Republicans pass bill restricting early voting; Big highway projects about to start in Sioux City, Okoboji; Hinton wrestling coach remains on leave

School bus
School bus

Sioux City School District teachers through their employee union group have asked for raises of $1,742, or 4.5 percent, to the base salary in the 2024-25 year ahead.

As about 25 teachers looked on late afternoon Tuesday, the Sioux City Education Association also asked for an increase in longevity pay of $1,500. The district has periodically OK’d longevity pay increases with teachers, said Brenda Zahner, who announced the SCEA opening contract proposal.

Also in the meeting, members of the Sioux City Education Support Personnel Association group, which includes paraeducators, administrative assistants, library and other workers, asked for raises of $2.10 per hour. Those support workers also asked to first receive longevity pay at five years instead of at 15 years, which they say that will help address high turnover.

Zahner said an extra factor is impacting the teacher salary negotiations this year, as the Iowa Legislature is considering a proposal to raise the minimum salary in the state to $50,000.

School district officials will give their responding offer in a March 13 meeting.

Once the opening proposals are unveiled, Iowa law permits the subsequent negotiations to be carried out privately. The Sioux City Education Association represents 1,100 teachers, and 400 workers are represented by the Sioux City Education Support Personnel Association group.

Down in Des Moines, Republicans in the Iowa House passed a bill this week that would put more restrictions on absentee voting.

The bill would ban absentee ballot dropboxes and move up the deadline for returning absentee ballots.

State Representative Bobby Kaufmann said it’s a “myth” that a series of Republican-backed voting restrictions in recent years have suppressed votes.

Democratic Representative Amy Nielsen said those measures, if enacted, will make it harder to vote. She says Iowa’s elections were already safe and fair before Republicans got control of the statehouse in 2017.

Additionally, two high profile road construction projects will soon be impacting drivers with lane closures in the Sioux City and Okoboji areas. The Iowa Department of Transportation is orchestrating the big projects, and one begins next week to improve U.S. Highway 71 through the Okoboji area.

That is the major north/south highway bisecting the busy tourist spot, so 2.5 months of work will take place now, in order wrap up right before Memorial Day weekend. The final part of that project will then proceed after Labor Day, when the big vacation season tapers off, IDOT spokesman Dakin Schultz told Siouxland Public Media.

The other project at the growing east edge of Sioux City will begin about April 1, as year two of a major reworking of Highway 20 over two miles. Similar to last year, the work will go over many months, with November as the expected completion. The busy Highway 20 four lanes into and out from Sioux City will be reduced to two lanes.

The $32 million project will change the highway grade to be less hilly, create wider intersections to connecting county roads, and provide a better connection to the Whispering Creek area.

Additionally, the head wrestling coach at Hinton High School in Northwest Iowa remains on paid administrative leave, weeks after allegations that some Hinton wrestlers tasered others on the team during the state tournament.

After a Hinton School Board meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Ken Slater said Casey Crawford continues to be on leave, the Sioux City Journal reported. Crawford also teaches math at Hinton.

The Coralville Police Department launched an investigation after players said older teammates tasered them at a hotel during a wrestling tournament in February. A video circulating on social media showed a team member being held down on a bed during an attack.