Attorney general won't weigh in on Price Lab School closing

Opponents question whether the Board of Regents overstepped its bounds

University of Norther Iowa Campus (Images provided by Kevin C. O'Kane)
University of Norther Iowa Campus (Images provided by Kevin C. O'Kane)

DES MOINES — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller won’t deliver an opinion on whether the Board of Regents overstepped its bounds when it approved closing Malcolm Price Laboratory School at the University of Northern Iowa.

“Generally, we do not issue opinions when to do so would interfere with the authority of the courts,” Deputy Attorney General Julie Pottorff wrote in the letter released Wednesday. “We regret we cannot be of further assistance to you.”

UNI President Ben Allen recommended closing the school as part of the university’s budget-cutting effort. The Board of Regents agreed with the recommendation.

Price Lab is designated as the state’s research and development school, which caused some to question the ability of the regents to approve the closure without consulting the Legislature.

A group of House Republicans and, later, a group of House and Senate Democrats each requested an opinion from Miller’s office to clarify the Legislature’s role in the closing.

A group of parents and teachers affiliated with the school filed suit claiming that the regents had the authority only to govern the school, not close it.

It’s that lawsuit that led to Miller declining to issue an opinion.

“I think that’s appropriate,” said Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, a 1990 graduate of Price Lab who was one of the three Republican House members to request the opinion. “They had the time to get an opinion out before the lawsuit, but I understand that it takes time to publish an opinion.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, called a community meeting in his district after the Price Lab closure was announced. He also is one of the Democrats who asked the attorney general to weigh in with an opinion.

“I’m OK with it. I think it’s one venue versus another,” he said. “In terms of responsiveness and from a legal perspective, the lawsuit that the parents have filed gets us to a quicker resolution anyway because they’re asking for a stay or an injunction, and that means the court has to understand the likeliness of the request, and that may not be necessarily so with an informal request of the AG by legislators.”

The letter came a day after the Senate government oversight committee held a hearing UNI’s budget cuts. Speakers included Allen, members of the Board of Regents and Lyn Countryman, interim director of the Lab School, among others.Following the meeting, Danielson said there would no longer be “a blank check” for the regents schools when funding decisions are made.

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