Schools concerned radon testing bill is unfunded mandate - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Schools concerned radon testing bill is unfunded mandate

Students at Waverly-Shell Rock Students at Waverly-Shell Rock

State lawmakers are considering a measure requiring schools to test for radon. But some districts fear that, while it's a good idea, it could be expensive.

Radon is found naturally in Iowa soil, and creeps its way into buildings. At high levels, and with repeated exposure, radon can cause cancer.

That's why state lawmakers may require schools be tested for radon gas.

Whether it's radon testing or other measures, schools everywhere -- including Waverly -- want to keep students safe.

But the big question is: What will it cost?

Jere Vyverberg is on his way out, soon retiring as superintendent of the Waverly-Shell Rock School District. But he's still very concerned about the financial picture at the district next year, since legislators still haven't set school funding.

"That's what we're waiting for," Vyverberg said. "Just how much allowable growth can we expect or can we hope for? ... One is for 2 percent and one is 4 percent -- but that 1 percent can make a whole whale of a difference, especially coming off the hard times and zero allowable growth we've been going through. So we really need to have a good handle on that."

But before those budget decisions are made, the state legislature is voting on other school issues, including education reform and a bill that would require districts to test their buildings for radon. 

Vyverberg thinks radon testing could be a good thing.  After all, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

"I can't argue with the validity of doing the testing," Vyverberg said. "Obviously it's something important if it has to do with safety."

But in cash-strapped schools, the question is how to pay for testing -- and, if high radon levels are found, how to fund the pricey systems used to fix the problem.

"I think anything we do for kids is excellent," Vyverberg said. The problem is that when we're coming into hard budget times, like we have right now -- especially with the uncertainty -- we don't know what we can spend money on."

The school testing bill has been approved by the Iowa Senate. It now moves to the House for consideration, and will require the governor's signature before any schools are required to start testing for radon.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley is also lobbying for a federal law requiring schools to test for radon.  That bill would provide grants to help schools with high radon levels to install mitigation systems, which is a provision the state law does not currently include.

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