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MCCSC Board of Trustees open meeting to discuss local ‘F’ grade schools

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Members of the public will get to hear and comment on proposals to address the “F” grades given by the state to Fairview and Highland Park schools.

The opportunity will come this evening, when the Board of Trustees of the Monroe County Community School Corporation opens its regular meeting.

The principals of the two elementary schools will present their proposals for improvement, and then the public will be able to respond and offer suggestions to the Board.

Fairview School has been in the news over the last couple months, following initial changes proposed by interim principal Tammy Miller that resulted in an uproar from some pupils and their parents.

Parental pressure and the accompanying publicity prompted the board and the principal to hold several Focus Group meetings with parents, teachers, and administrators.

Amanda Nickey is a parent of a Fairview student, was involved in the initial protests, and attended one of these focus group meetings.

“The meetings are structured and led by a staff member,” Nickey says, “They led us through big picture questions with Fairview and the community and then getting more specific about programs important to us parents. We were able to share our perspectives and opinions.”

There were two other focus group sessions, and no more of these or other parent-staff meetings have been scheduled by the school or the board. Nickey says she is taking a wait-and-see position on Fairview’s response to the public’s concern.

“It’s not over yet, and I don’t know if I’m satisfied,” Nickey says.

She says she is waiting to see if parental input gathered at the focus groups sessions will be incorporated in any plans addressing Fairview’s academic performance problems. Nickey also says there was another private meeting, called by the school board, in which a State Department of Education official was in attendance.

However, she has not seen nor heard what was addressed or proposed. Some leaders of the Fairview Parent-Teacher Organization also organized a more open meeting at Crestmont. One of the main topics was the lack of official communication with parents. This shortcoming, and a perceived lack of consultation with parents, provided the initial impetus for the protests back in January.

Nevertheless, Nickey doesn’t think that school and board communication with parents has significantly improved.

“I just got an email and phone call today about the meeting today,” Nickey says, “For a lot of parents, that’s just not enough time to know about something like that.”

The open portion of tonight’s board meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Aside from academic performance issues at Fairview and Highland Park elementary schools, the agenda also includes proposals for next year’s class pupil-to-teacher ratios, and a board resolution opposing the Indiana government’s proposal to eliminate Indiana Business Personal Property Tax. The class ratio proposal will offer a range of sizes from kindergarten through to grade 12 for the various schools.

The resolution on the business tax arises from the potential negative impact on the MCCSC budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, if the tax is eliminated.

Critical discussion on ISTEP and standardized testing this Sunday at YMCA

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The Indiana Coalition for Public Education is holding a discussion about ISTEP and other standardized testing this Sunday at the YMCA.

Parents, teachers, and members of the community are invited to attend the discussion. The event is free for everyone. Phil and Joan Harris, authors of The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell You What You Think They Do, will lead the discussion.

Phil Harris was once a member of the faculty at Indiana University. The two do not agree with how standardized testing is used in Indiana, and believe it distorts education systems. Jennifer Livesay, a board member for the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, talks about the event.

“We want to look at the role ISTEP is playing on the eve of ISTEP testing at local schools,” Livesay says, “The writers of the book are very critical of the role of standardized testing, so they’ll share their perspective.”

This discussion will be held the day before ISTEP testing starts in Indiana, on March 2nd, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the new YMCA on the northwest side of town. Livesay says she hopes the event will serve as a platform for future discussions on the topic.

 

Senate Bill 340 passes, changing Indiana’s energy saving program

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The Indiana State Senate voted 37 to 1 to pass Senate Bill 340 earlier this month, a bill that would ultimately change Indiana’s statewide energy saving program. Jodi Perras, Indiana Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, further explains what effect the bill will have.

“As it’s written now, big business can withdraw from the energy efficiency programs,” Perras says, “That means the rest of us will pay for the programs and the large facilities opting out is like us taking our two best players off the basketball floor.”

These utility programs seek to create less demand for energy, and Perras says they ultimately save everyone money. She says that passing Senate Bill 340 would benefit big industries, but hurt citizens along the way.

“We see big utilities that don’t like energy efficiency, and they have a lot of voice in the statehouse,” Perras says, “We need voters across the state to voice their opinion.”

According to Perras, utilities were forced to participate in these programs beginning in 2009, leading to energy efficiency. She says that efficiency is now under attack at the statehouse.

“People need to wake up and know that big utilities are trying to fight energy efficiency,” Perras says, “These are programs that keep our electricity rates down for schools, universities and we need to make sure these programs keep going.”

Perras says The Sierra Club stresses the importance of the public’s voice in dealing with Indiana’s environmental issues.

The Strike Mic – February 25, 2014

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This week on The Strike Mic—A new conference, planned to be held this spring, will host groups from university campuses around the country to compare struggles and prepare for action in the fall of 2014.

 

Parking Stays Un-Privatized at Indiana University

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Indiana University Treasurer Mary Frances McCourt has estimated that parking operations on campus could generate a $43 million profit over the next twenty years. She presented her findings to the IU Board of Trustees on Friday.

McCourt recommended in October that the university should control its own revenue stream, and the board accepted. McCourt said parking prices will be determined by market peer-rate settings and suggests the funds go to building and repairing facilities on campus.

Parking revenue and expenses currently balance out, but McCourt said sometimes expenses can exceed revenue when facility upgrades are required. The university is considering putting automated parking equipment in garages on some campuses, which would be a one-point-nine million dollar investment.

IU Trustee Patrick Shoulders approved of the board’s decision to control revenue, but disagreed about where the funds should go.

“First of all, I’m glad that the decision has been made NOT to privatize parking operations and that parking will remain a function of the university,” Shoulders says, “We retain the flexibility and ability to maintain those lots to the standards we demand. To the extent that parking rates are increased, I hope nay excess revenue is invested in our people. I think that some of our employees start at hourly wages that simply don’t pay a living wage.”

Details about the reformed parking rate structure will be released by IU officials in the spring.

Local Volunteers Spread the Word About Affordable Care Act Information to Local Faith Leaders

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The Affordable Care Act Volunteers of Monroe County Incorporated launched their Faith Neighbors Campaign on Sunday. The campaign is designed to directly contact each faith community in Monroe County. David Meyer is president of the group.

“The Faith Neighbors Campaign is an outreach effort to all communities of faith in Monroe County,” Meyer says, “We count about 155 of them, and we send them packages that include takeaway information at our free public events.”

The ACA Volunteers of Monroe County  will provide information to those in need at various congregations. Their goal is to help community members learn more about the Affordable Care Act and how it will affect them.

“Ultimately, it’s about cutting through both the political and controversial new cycle on the Affordable Care Act,” Meyers says, “We want to get down to what it means for us and have a practical discussion about the ACA.”

Meyer says that they have reached out to 400 so far, and are hoping to reach out to over 1,000  people in the next four weeks.

Monroe County Plan Commission Approved Zoning Change for Local Resident

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The Monroe County Plan Commission approved a zoning change for tomorrow, at the request of a landowner who wanted to expand his yard.

John Livingston asked the commission to rezone just more  than an acre of property he intends to buy on Ida Lane, southwest of Bloomington. County planner Tammy Behrman explained why Livingston wants the change.

“The reason for this rezone is that Livingston wants to join his lot in the subdivision to extend his backyard into the creek,” Behrman said, “This is for the purpose of gardening and giving his children somewhere to play.

County Planning staff recommended that Livingston not be allowed to build any structures on part of the property, for fear of flooding problems. Commission members agreed, even though Livingston said he doesn’t think the area is prone to flooding. Commission member John Irvine responded to Livingston’s concerns.

The commission later voted unanimously to rezone the parcel, allowing Livingston to expand his property.

Fairview Elementary Labeled ‘Priority School’ By State, Students Not Reading at Grade Level

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The principal at Fairview Elementary says most of its students are not reading at grade level. That literacy issue was the centerpiece of a presentation about Fairview issues that Principal Tammy Miller gave to the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Board of Trustees on February 11.

The presentation came about a month after parents protested sudden changes at the school, including classroom reassignments based on standardized test scores. Miller said those changes were triggered partly by test scores received in December that showed only about a third of the students in grades 2 through 6 were reading at grade level.

About that same time, she said the state also made an announcement about the school saying that in December, Fairview had been designated as a “priority school.”

Miller said there are only 24 schools with that designation in the state of Indiana. She said priority schools get increased monitoring by the State Department of Education.

“If in the monitoring process the plan does not meet the criteria of improving the student achievement, the next steps might include shifting resources, changing personnel, or have an outside team develop a new plan for the school.” Miller says.

Miller went on to say that only about 40 percent of students who attend Fairview for sixth grade go on to graduate high school in four years. She said the school is working on what she called a Turn Around plan, which is required by the state.

But Board member Sue Wanzer said the problem extends beyond Fairview. She said there are things outside their control, and that they need help from other people outside the school.

Miller said parents would be involved as changes are made to Fairview.

One of the main complaints from parents who protested the changes last month was that they were not consulted.

Critics Say Agricultural Amendment to Indiana Code Priviliges Rights of Agriculture Industry

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The Indiana General Assembly is moving to enact a bill that critics say will privilege the rights and interests of the agricultural industry.

Senate Bill 186 has recently been approved by the agriculture and natural resources committees of both houses of the legislature. The short bill will add an amendment to a part of the Indiana Code dealing with agriculture.

The first sentence of the first section of SB 186 states that it is the state’s policy to promote the agricultural sector. The second says that the Indiana Code shall be construed to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices, including the use of ever changing technology.

The second section states that the state department of agriculture pursue this policy by assisting agricultural businesses with the permit process required to conduct business in Indiana, serve as a liaison between agricultural businesses, state agencies, and local units of government.

Kim Ferraro, of the Hoosier Environmental Council is an opponent the bill. She claims that, if passed into law, SB 186 would compel judges, legislators, and regulators to interpret state law to favor agriculture businesses in any legal conflict with other individuals, business, or local government. She also claims that the bill is meant to serve big agricultural operations, in particular those that have recently come under attack for polluting the land, water and air around them, and for contaminating neighboring farms with their genetically modified seeds.

Yesterday, Ferraro said several owners of family farms also expressed opposition to the bill during the legislative hearings.

“There were eight or nine traditional famers who were there to say that the farm bureau and Big Ag lobbyists don’t represent their interests,” Ferraro says, “There are family farmers who are testifying said they don’t need a right like this and that this only hurts the rights of other people. I thought there were some really moving testimonials but it fell on largely deaf ears.”

Andy Dietrick of the Indiana Farm Bureau argues that SB 186 will not privilege the rights of agriculture businesses over other rights. He says it simply reiterates the mandate of the state’s agricultural department to promote farming.

“I think this is just a reaffirmation in the context of the state Department of Agriculture’s role to promote the farmers’ rights to use technologies and practices that are considered generally acceptable practices,” Dietrick says, “Things change over time and practices change over time and I think the state does affirm the right to use those practices.”

Dietrick claims that the bill will not impair local governments’ rights to pass zoning ordinances and regulations that might impact farm operations.

He also thinks that SB 186 was not intended to benefit large agricultural businesses such as CAFO’s – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – which in Indiana is defined as a feed-lot with over 4,000 pigs, for example. These businesses have been proliferating in southern.

“Where in the language does it say anything about CAFO or large operations, specifically?” Dietrick says, “It could be GMO or non-GMO. It could be organic. It’s about farmers’ rights to use ever-changing technologies.”

Senate Bill 186 has now passed out of the agricultural committees of both Houses. However, no date has been scheduled for it to come up for general debate.

HJR-3 Update

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Today, the Indiana Senate had its final vote on House Joint Resolution 3, the same-sex marriage ban. The Senate was voting on a version of the bill as amended by the lower house. A vote in favor of HJR-3 would effectively suspend the attempt to put a ban on same-sex marriage before voters on this fall’s ballot. A vote against the bill would defeat it. Either way the issue will be suspended until another legislator might propose something similar. Most senators spoke against the same sex marriage ban as a civil rights issue. One of these was local Democratic Senator Mark Stoops.

“When I first started hearing about this discussion at the state house, obviously I wasn’t a legislator at the time,” said Stoops. “But my first thought wasn’t just that ‘oh, this is going to be embarrassing for the state, it puts us in the spotlight’. It’s not the fact that we’re going to lose out on economic development because people aren’t going to want to come here. It seemed to me that the main issue with a resolution like this is basic civil rights.”

Senator Stoops went on to explain how placing a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution would entrench discrimination in what should be a rights document:

“I mean, we all have friends, co-workers, and family that we know are gay. Are we as legislators, and are you as senators, going to look at those friends and those co-workers and those family members and say, ‘With this vote, I am saying I’m a better person than you, I am more moral than you, and I’m more deserving of basic civil rights’? Because if you support this amendment, that’s exactly what you’re going to be saying.”

Another legislator, Democratic Senator Greg Taylor from District 33 in Central Indiana, drew parallels with prohibitions on interracial marriage.

“Nineteen sixty-seven in Indiana,” began Taylor,  “I met a couple, a friend of mine’s mom and dad, the first interracial couple to be married in the state of Indiana. You want to know why? Because it was illegal. That was supposed to protect the institution of marriage.”

He then talked about how such prohibitions would have affected him personally:

“Nineteen ninety-nine, I had the opportunity on May 15, 1999 – I hope my wife remembers I said that because I remember our anniversary date – to marry my wife. She happens to be caucasian. Folks, times change. Times will always change. I love my wife to death. I don’t care what culture she has, I don’t care what race she has. Can you believe that there was a time in this state when me and my wife couldn’t be married? Now we sit here with this issue.”

Shortly after his speech to the Senate, the majority voted for the amended version of HJR-3. Despite voting for legislation to discriminate against same-sex couples, this vote makes makes it impossible to place a referendum on the 2014 ballot for voters to constitutionally entrench the same-sex ban. However, it does not preclude attempts by state legislators to attempt to enact such a ban in the future. While Indiana has been debated such discriminatory legislation, other states and the federal government have been moving to permit same sex marriage and extend the benefits of marriage to these couples. While the courts have taken the lead in striking down discriminatory laws and regulations at both levels of government, legislators have stopped trying to resist the tide in what has become the civil rights issue the age. The pressure of public opinion and organization interest in favor of expanding marriage rights is forcing governments here and abroad to either resist calls to legalize sexual discrimination or revisit such laws already passed.

 

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