Thursday, February 2, 2023

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Civic Skinny

Hardenbrook owner speaks on State Fair audits. State reports on education, veterans home and more. Top baby names.


Last month, news broke that four popular vendors would not be returning to Iowa’s largest annual event after state audits suggested fraud. The Iowa State Fair ousted Hardenbrook Concessions; Pete’s Lemonade Shake Ups and Pete’s Ice Cream & Snow Cones; Dad’s Old-Fashioned Lemonade; and JR Services.

When reached for comment on the audit, Iowa State Fair spokesperson Mindy Williamson redirected CITYVIEW to the Iowa Department of Revenue (IDR). John Fuller, a public information officer with IDR, repeatedly stated he could share no details — even general information about the auditing process or how businesses are targeted for further investigation.

Dustin Beener, owner of Hardenbrook Concessions, shared his side of the story. His business operated six state fair locations in 2022, two of which were audited. For context: the fair began requiring vendors in 2021 to implement Clover point-of-sale (POS) systems, allowing all locations to accept debit and credit card payments.

“We had no idea they were going to audit until they showed up at one location with multiple armed state fair police, three Iowa Department of Revenue agents and two admins from the state fair,” Beener shared. “They informed us the audit was done because they observed cash sales not being rang up on the POS… This is not uncommon at this location due to the volume of sales, as well as the smoke, grease and application of it.”

During the audit, Beener said there were between four to eight front sales staff members present, ages 14-16. The location was shut down for about 40 minutes while IDR agents counted product and cash on hand. A second location was approached in the same way but later cleared.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (February)

“I wasn’t informed of what brought them to do the audit still to this day,” Beener said. “The perception of the audit alone, from other vendors and customers, was damaging.”

Hardenbook has a “great working relationship” with the fair, Beener said, adding that officials should have contacted them to inquire about the issue beforehand, instead of assuming malice. The vendor was able to reopen for the remaining seven days of the fair “without issue.”

The Des Moines Register reported, “The auditors found Hardenbrook Concessions underreported sales by more than $46,000 over five days at the fair; Pete’s Shake Ups and Pete’s Ice Cream & Snow Cones underreported by almost $32,000 from Aug. 11-16, when it was audited; Dad’s Old-Fashioned Lemonade underreported by an estimated $3,450 over the same six days; and JR Services underreported sales totaling $16,530 from Aug. 11-18.”

According to Beener, fair vendors report their sales daily, at which time they pay sales tax and their percentage to the fair (19.5% of gross receipts after sales tax, per the fair’s website). By the end of the fair, he said, all percentages and sales tax have been paid in full.

“To ‘under-report’ would insinuate you have knowingly reported a figure less than that truly made to short the commissions and sales tax that should be paid,” he added.

Beener said he plans to attend the Iowa State Fair board meeting this month and request they reconsider the decision.

“I want them to be aware of the context of the issues. I know they are doing their due diligence. I want them to realize how special it is to have a vendor at our level at the fair for so many years. Our history is entwined with the Iowa State Fair.”

Hardenbrook Concessions has been at the fair for 109 years, beginning with Beener’s great-grandparents operating a cafeteria in the cattle barns. They have been invited back to other area events, including a local county fair headed by an Iowa State Fair board member. …

The Iowa Department of Education released its annual Condition of Education report on the state’s PK-12 public schools. Verbatim, key data points from the 2021-22 school year include:

485,630: After experiencing a drop in 2020-21, public school K-12 enrollment increased slightly from 484,159 in 2020-21 to 485,630 in 2021-22.

26.8%: Minority students made up 26.8% of the student population in Iowa school districts, an all-time high, up from 26.1% the previous year.

40.7%: The percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches decreased for the second year in a row, down slightly from 41.8% the year before.

6.6%: The percent of students whose native language is not English (English learners), increased from 6.3% in 2020-21.

38,020: The number of full-time teachers in public schools remained steady in 2021-22, compared to 38,022 the year before. There was a 13.1% increase in the number of full-time public school teachers from the 2000-01 school year (33,610) to 2021-22 (38,020).

$59,492: The average regular teacher salary, up from $58,771 in 2020-21.

47.1%: The percent of students from Iowa’s class of 2022 who took higher-level mathematics, including calculus, statistics and trigonometry. This is down from 48.8% the year before.

111,769: Students in grades 9-12 took an all-time high number of concurrent enrollment courses during the 2021-22 school year — 111,769.

1,065: The number of students who earned the Seal of Biliteracy, which recognizes students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages, one of which is English. This is an increase of 85.2% from its inaugural year in 2018-19.

$11,431: The state’s average per-pupil expense in the 2020-21 school year, up from $10,794 in 2019-20.

The report from 2022 and past years may be found at at the “Education Statistics PK-12” page. …

Auditor of State Rob Sand released a report on the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, which is overseen by the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs. In fiscal year 2021, the annualized cost per resident was $182,990, a 15.5% increase from $159,370 the year prior and $147,938 in 2019. The average number of residents in 2021 was 427, compared to 488 in fiscal year 2020 and 498 in 2019.

Sand also released a report on the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs. The school provides an education for students with severe hearing loss who are less than 21 years old. Students must be Iowa residents, although the school also serves students from Nebraska, as laid out by the Board of Regents. An average of 92 students were enrolled in fiscal year 2021, with the average cost per student being $110,937. The prior year reported an average enrollment of 85 students at an average annual cost of $120,868. … 

Certified election results revealed that Iowa’s 2022 general election was the second-highest in state history among midterm elections. In all, 1,230,416 voters cast their ballots. Of those, 859,835 were cast on Election Day, and 370,581 were absentee. Fifty-five percent of registered voters and 65% of active registered voters participated in the election. As of Nov. 8, Iowa had 1,880,415 active registered voters. Eighteen Iowa counties reported 60% or more total voter turnout, including Dallas, Madison, Warren and Guthrie counties. Polk County turnout was 57.7%.

With all of Iowa’s U.S. senators and representatives now Republican, this marks the first time Iowa’s entire congressional delegation has been represented by a single party since 1955. … 

Maternity Services at UnityPoint Health – Des Moines put together its annual list of top names for babies delivered at their hospitals. In 2022, the most popular boy’s names were Theo/Theodore, Henry, Elijah, William and Brooks. Top girl’s names were Olivia, Nora/Norah, Everly/Everleigh, Charlotte and Emma. ♦

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