May 25, 2021

👋 Hiya, Des Moines — welcome to Tuesday.

  • We've got a 50% chance of rain and a high of 79°. Let's do this.

💡 Trivia time: What is the name of Des Moines' eclectic version of a dollar store on the city's northside? (Answer at the bottom.)

⚡️ Situational awareness: DSM’s police de-escalation training will soon be conducted by a third-party nonprofit group, Mayor Frank Cownie announced last night. The decision follows months of public criticism concerning excessive force by training leaders.

  • Noteworthy: Today is the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, which has fueled national calls for police reforms.

Today's Smart Brevity count is 945 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Our open enrollment challenge

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Des Moines’ schools are now prohibited from denying students open enrollment under a bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds this month.

Why it matters: Poor kids will be more heavily concentrated, setting those schools up for educational obstacles associated with poverty, according to advocates.

  • Students of color are more likely to be negatively affected, leading some to brand the act as "resegregating our schools," Margaret Buckton of the Urban Education Network told Axios.
  • Hundreds of students are also expected to leave the district, costing it nearly $2.7 million in revenue in the upcoming school year.

The backdrop: DMPS is one of five in Iowa that restricted open enrollment via a voluntary diversity plan.

  • It denied transfers if they would cause a neighborhood school to exceed or fall below the district’s average poverty rate by 10% or more.
  • The plans have prevented wealthier students from fleeing for more affluent schools in Waukee or West Des Moines.
  • Educational choice advocates have challenged the plans for years. Their success now is partly credited to the pandemic and an increased call for more school options.

Yes, but: Critics have long said DMPS’ diversity plan is widely ineffective at equalizing poverty rates among schools and is intended to protect budgets instead of education.

  • For example, more than 97% of the students at Edmunds Fine Arts Academy currently qualify for free or reduced-price meals, compared to about 23% at the Downtown School, according to state data.

By the numbers: There were 301 students approved for release from the district in the upcoming school year, DMPS officials told Axios last week. That’s about about 100 more than in the current school year.

  • Another 74 students were approved to enter the district, down by one from the current school year.
  • Worth noting: Each student brings more than $7k in state per-pupil funding.

What to expect: Families this year can open enroll through August, but it's too early to assess the full impact, DMPS CFO Shashank Aurora told Jason.

  • A legal challenge is possible and could potentially result in court-ordered desegregation plans, Buckton added.

2. DSM's new $2 million software

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Des Moines launches a new $2 million computer software system June 21.

Why it matters: It's supposed to make your life better by modernizing tens of thousands of annual interactions for things like code violations, licenses and permits.

  • A customer self-service portal will allow people to have immediate access to their own documents and save time by helping to eliminate data entry duplications.
  • Records will automatically update to other databases, giving instant access to things like updated GIS maps that are important for land and neighborhood permits.
  • Forms will be available in multiple languages in coming months.

The backdrop: The city’s current system is 20 years old and lacks essential functions of modern software.

News you can use: Expect processing delays in permits and licensing over the first few weeks of June.

  • If you’ve got pending city business, DSM recommends you try to take care of it in coming days to avoid any headaches.

3. Ranking the commute convenience of gas station foods

Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Gas station food is steeped in Iowa's commute culture, especially before we head out to work.

  • So our food needs to handle the journey.

Linh picked up some foods at Casey's and gave them "napkin" ratings (from one napkin to five). The lower the rating, the higher the ease of eating on the go.

  • When it comes to that pizza pictured above, she's carried a Casey's slice through some unconventional times. On a bike? Check. In a purse? Check.
  • It's perfect car food. With a convenient cardboard base and a plastic bag to protect both pizza and you, you'll have no problems chowing down.
  • Napkin rating: 📃

Find out what Linh did not enjoy eating on the go.

4. The Ear: Corn for less than a buccaneer

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

  • Johnston's primary elections for a city council seat are today from 7am to 8pm. The top two candidates will run in a special June 22 election to fill the seat vacated by Scott Syroka, who resigned in March to take a Biden administration position.
  • A Days Inn in Des Moines' northside could house people experiencing homelessness if a local non-profit's $4 million project moves forward. (Des Moines Register 🔒)
  • Two Des Moines men killed following a police pursuit Sunday were identified yesterday. (WHO-TV)
  • A proposal in Valley Junction to build a three-story commercial and apartment building appears to have the city council's support despite some opposition about plans to demolish a 1920s home. (Business Record)
  • Fareway's rezoning request for a Beaverdale meat market was approved by the DSM City Council with traffic limitations on 41st Place following concerns from some residents.

(Thanks for today's corn pun, Cheryl Benson of Oskaloosa!)

5. Get free Axios swag!

Image via Axios

Hey, Des Moines! Want to score free Axios swag?

  • Refer your friends to Axios Des Moines and get cool merch like stickers, totes, hats, T-shirts and more!

How it works: Current subscribers can share their personal referral links with their friends.

  • Each new subscriber referred = one referral point that you can redeem for rewards.
  • When you reach a milestone, we'll email you a coupon code to redeem your new Axios swag in our subscriber-exclusive online swag store.

And be on the lookout for some unique referral gifts that are specific to Des Moines.

  • If you have ideas for local-specific prizes, reply and let us know.

For more information, visit our FAQ page.

6. Trivia answer!

The storefront of "Almost Free," which closed in 2019. A cardboard sign says it's opening soon. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Almost Free was the colorful thrift store that graced Euclid Avenue with its extravagant Christmas decorations and peculiar knack for eye-catching lawn ornaments.

  • We stopped by and cardboard signs said work is being done on the building, which will be sporadically open.
  • The store's been closed since 2019, but a giant Christmas stocking still hangs. Maybe it'll be ready by December this year?

Worthy of your time: George Floyd’s family members hope to turn May 25 into an annual remembrance called the Day of Enlightenment.

Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.