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Gov. Pence Promises To Shorten ISTEP+ Assessment

by David Murphy Governor Mike Pence has signed an executive order to shorten the length of the 2015 ISTEP+, which is scheduled to be administered in March.

The order is Pence’s response to the uproar that followed last week’s announcement that this year’s tests would take more than twice as much time for students to take as they did last year.The average time is up from around 5 hours to around 12 hours.

Pence’s proposal would only take effect after the appointment of a so-called assessment expert and a presentation of the ensuing report to the State Board of Education and the Department of Education. Today, Pence’s office announced that he had named Edward Roeber, a private sector testing consultant, to carry out his wishes.

This flap over I-STEP+ is only the latest in a long line of problems and complaints the test has caused since its inception. Since teacher pay and promotion is increasingly based on the performance of students on the tests, many say there is increased pressure to ‘teach-to-the-test.’

Some teachers now prefer teaching in schools and districts where higher socio-economic conditions tend to boost test scores. At the other end of the spectrum, poorer schools and districts, which produce lower test results, are put on track for eventual privatization. The most recent estimate is that the state department of education paid outside firms and consultants $31 million for the tests.

At the local level, the Monroe County Community School Corporation had to add five days to the school calendar year just to administer the test when it was originally introduced. On top of that administrative cost is the supplemental time and cost of test preparation, pre-testing, and test processing.

Last year, the test practice time was about an hour. This year it has grown to six hours.

Other problems have arisen in the actual application of the tests, including computer glitches during tests, errors in score calculation, and even the fudging of results, the most notorious being when former state superintendent of education, Tony Bennett, was caught raising the score of a charter school run by a big GOP donor. ISTEP + testing begins next month in Monroe County and across the state.

Bloomington is at gold standard for community biking


Bloomington’s status as a bicycle-friendly community has been elevated to gold-level by the League of American Bicyclists. Vince Caristo, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, spoke to the City Council last night.
Caristo says this places Bloomington in the top 25 cities to accommodate for bicycle enthusiast. He is also very proud of Bloomington’s promotion in the award from 4 years prior.
Bloomington has seen an 88% increase in bicycle facilities overall according to Caristo.

Caristo said that the honor was due in large part to the Council’s own initiatives, which have changed Bloomington’s infrastructure in ways that have increased ridership in Bloomington.

Caristo said the city’s painted bike lanes and a free, updated bike map have made bike-riding more accessible. He also highlighted the civil streets education campaign’s multiple transportation partners. Caristo said that the percent of bike commuters have quadrupled since 2013

The percentage of bike commuters is determined using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Council member Steve Volan asked how close Bloomington is to receiving the highest possible designation for bike friendliness.
Bloomington council members still says we have awhile before Bloomington can receive a platinum bicycle rating, considering it took them four years to receive a gold since their last award.

Council member Marty Spechler asked if the city was considering a bike rental program, which he had enjoyed as a tourist in other cities. Caristo said that is has been discussed in the past and will also be on the agenda for the next meeting of the bicycle pedestrian safety commission. That meeting is Monday February 9th.

Senator Coats; U. S. Senate Interrogate Health and Human Services Over 2016 Department Budget


The U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee, including Indiana Senator Dan Coats, aggressively questioned Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell for three hours this morning. The interrogation was part of the Committee’s review of President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2016 budget for the Department. Correspondent Alycin Bektesh has this report.

In Indiana, 193,567 people are signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

4th Street Parking Garage Is Under Repair


Visitors to downtown Bloomington’s 4th street parking garage, between College and Walnut streets, may have been disconcerted this winter to see the facility held up by metal poles and entire groups of parking spaces blocked off by scaffolding. The ongoing work is just routine maintenance, according to Susie Johnson, Director of Public Works for the City. She says that the construction involves routine preventive maintenance for the future.

Monday through Friday the Fourth Street garage is free for the first three hours. After that, it costs 50 cents an hour, half the cost of the parking meters on the street. After 6pm the 4th street garage is the only free parking garage downtown. It is also the oldest, and requires adjustments to its drainage flow and paving. The City is paying Indianapolis-based contractor Carl E Most & Son one hundred and eight thousand dollars for the repairs. Johnson said the project is weather dependent and is being done in stages so as not to block off too many of the spaces at one time.

A restructuring of Bloomington’s city government last year moved parking enforcement responsibilities from the Public Works Department to the Bloomington Police Department. But Public Works is still responsible for maintaining city properties, such as the garage.

No More to Domestic Violence Event to be Held Next Week

Monroe County will say No More to domestic violence and sexual assault next week with an interactive awareness event and community service project. The Protective Order Assistance Partnership along with several Indiana University student groups will be hosting an event next Monday, February 9th. It’s titled Monroe County Says No More. Activities will include decorating tote bags to be filled with winter clothing and donated to Middle Way House, a local domestic violence shelter. Participants in the event can also help create a community quilt and listen to a new public service announcement about domestic violence. The sponsors are also requesting donations of women’s winter gloves, hats, scarves, and thick socks for the event. It will take place from one to four PM in the Indiana Memorial Union Georgian Room.

Bloomington Transit Services Are Increasing In Popularity

Ridership for Bloomington Transit Services has continuously increased over the past decade, according to new statistics from Bloomington Transit. 2014 set an all-time high for ridership with over three and a half million riders, a seventy-two percent increase since 2004. A press release from Bloomington Transit cited progress over the past decade, including the opening of the new Downtown Transit Center on East Third and Walnut streets. According to the city, transit services have been improved with the inclusion of new routes for underserved areas in the community and expanded hours on both weeknights and the weekend. A bus tracker application and a new website design have also been put in place with the goal of making services more accessible for Bloomington residents. Funds for this progress have mostly come from federal grants. Bloomington Transit’s service has received numerous awards in recent years, including the American Public Transportation Association’s Outstanding Public Transportation Award in North America in 2010.

Funding For Bean Blossom School Corporation


Officials at the Richland Bean Blossom Community School Corporation raised concerns about funding for public education at a school board meeting last month. Doug Uhls, who represents the district’s Education Association, urged community members to keep a close eye on the state legislature this year.

“I know that our governor is proposing over $200 million increase over the next two years for education,” Uhls said. “But almost $49 million of it is going toward charter schools in his proposal…You don’t have to be a math teacher to know that’s about a quarter of the proposed increase going towards a pretty small segment of our students.”

Randy Wright, a member of the school board, had similar thoughts. Wright also encouraged community members to talk to their legislators about education.

“Dollars for our kids are very, very important, so we really need to get that money for our students,” Wright said. “Get to the Statehouse. Make your voice heard. It’s all about public education in my opinion.”

Also at the meeting the district superintendent, Mike Wilcox, announced he will begin hosting a monthly podcast. Wilcox said the program, which is called Super Chat, will be available from the district’s website.

“Hopefully I can break things down to where people understand a lot of things that are in the newspapers…about school, both locally and statewide,” Wilcox said.

The Corporation’s website is www.rbbcsc.k12.in.us

Bill moved in senate to expand bus services


Earlier today a committee in the Indiana Senate moved forward a bill that could expand bus service in Monroe County. The bill would give the Monroe County Council the option to raise taxes and expand the reach of Bloomington Transit, which currently serves only the city of Bloomington. Senator Mark Stoops from Bloomington is sponsoring the legislation. Monroe County already has a Rural Transit Service. But in a statement issued today, Stoops said that service has been hit with budget cuts and “has to turn down thousands of rides every year.” The bill now moves to the full Senate, where any member can amend it.

Employees hired to manage invasive vegetation


The city of Bloomington has hired two full-time employees to manage the increasing problem of invasive vegetation. Dave Williams, the operations director for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, made the announcement last week before the Board of Parks Commissioners.

“This has become a huge issue for any land-holding agency as well as private property owners,” Williams said. “It’s become a challenge for us to restore the natural habitat in areas like Lower Cascades Park, Griffy Lake…and neighborhood parks.”

Jon Behrman has been hired full time to oversee native vegetation management and native planting initiatives. A second position filled by Haskell Smith will expressly work to combat invasive plant species.

“The latest and greatest pest is the emerald ash borer,” Williams said. “What we find ourselves doing is getting more into the (tree) removal business than the planting business. We have long since walked away from our ability to do much more than occasional contractual pruning of trees, which over the life of the tree, if you do it young, can save you tons of dollars.”

The Board praised the hires. Williams said climate change will continue to necessitate management of invasive vegetation.

“The (emerald ash borer) isn’t the end of it,” Williams said. “There are other potential threats to maple trees…There will always be something to fight and combat and control.”

Also at the meeting the board approved ongoing partnerships between the City of Bloomington and the Indiana University School of Public Health.

Mike Pence Controversy for State-Run News Plan


This afternoon Governor Mike Pence axed his plans for a state-run news service. Pence became the subject of controversy earlier this week when the Indianapolis Star reported on his plans to establish a government run news service called Just IN. Just IN was supposed to launch this February.

In a news release today, Pence said he would not approve of any state-run media and that the proposal, authored by his communications staff, was not what he expected. The project has since been completely shut down. Instead, Pence said, the current public calendar website will be updated and adapted.

Documents of the proposal show the Just IN site would have featured breaking news stories and have been overseen by a Government-paid managing editor. Just IN was intended both for a general audience and media.

Much of the backlash against the plan came from journalists who found the idea of a state-run news agency unethical. Matthew Tully, a writer for the IndyStar, argued against Just IN, citing the American tradition of an independent press as well as the fact the agency would be funded by taxpayers.

IU Journalism Professor Gerry Lanosga has blogged and tweeted about the Just IN controversy. And to Lanosga, the outrage was unwarranted.

He says that he does not see it as an ethical issue for the government, but could possibly be an ethical issue for the journalists involved.

Over the past couple days, many critics suggested the Just In service would spin stories to benefit the Pence administration. But Lanosga argues the focus should be on how the press gets its information in the first place.

He states that we need to think about how reliant the press is right now on government information. He also states that it is a big concern that a large portion of the press’ information come directly from government sources.

The documents that allowed the IndyStar reporter to break the story on Just IN came from a government source. Mike Pence is in his first term as the 50th governor of Indiana and has served since 2013. There is wide speculation Pence is considering a run for president in 2016. So far he has not made those plans public.

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