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Local Organizations Collecting Camping Gear for Homeless Residents

Local organizations have begun collecting camping gear for homeless residents who will soon be without access to a low-barrier shelter.

Next Wednesday, the Interfaith Winter Shelter will officially cease its operations for the season. Each year after the shelter closes, dozens of homeless residents are left to sleep outdoors, typically in camps that are technically illegal.

Forrest Gilmore, the executive director of the Shalom Community Center, said he is helping collect tents, sleeping bags, tarps, rain gear, flashlights and other camping equipment to distribute to residents who need them. Gilmore said anyone with gear to donate can bring it to the Shalom Center or to the Salvation Army in Bloomington.

In past summers, the Genesis Church operated a low-barrier shelter, but that ended in 2012 and no organization has filled the void. An organization known as the Ubuntu Group was once poised to open a replacement shelter but the Group never found an affordable location. City zoning places severe restrictions on where homeless shelters can be located.

Panel Chosen to Make IU School of Education Recommendations

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The members of a so-called blue ribbon panel to make recommendations on the future of the IU School of Education have been chosen. IU President Michael McRobbie announced his intention to establish the panel last year in the wake of declining enrollment in the school.  The members of the panel are Carole Ames, former dean and professor emerita at the College of Education at Michigan State University; David Harris, who oversaw the establishment of the Indianapolis charter school system; Diana Hess, senior vice president of an academic research funding organization and professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Alex Molnar, research professor and publications director of  the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder; and Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools. Two members of the five member panel, including the chair, were chosen in consultation with the IU school of education. Gerardo Gonzalez, Dean of the School, says he is pleased with the composition of the panel.

Following McRobbie’s announcement of his intent to appoint the panel, the school of education asked faculty to be consulted on the committee and its membership. McRobbie’s office then asked the school to submit a list of six nominees for two slots. The decline in enrollment in the IU school of education came in the wake of changes to the state’s Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability, known as REPA (“REP-uh”). The changes now make it legal for people without education degrees to teach and administer in public schools.

Gonzales says that in Indiana, teachers’ salaries have been reduced by ten percent over the last decade, the second largest decline among the 50 states.  He also says the panel will begin meeting before the end of this semester and report to President McRobbie before the end of the summer. In the meantime, faculty and administrators in the Bloomington school are preparing submissions and recommendations for the panel.  Coincidentally, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the IU School of Education 25th highest in the nation and 15th among public universities. Three of the School’s specialties – higher education administration, curriculum instruction, and elementary teacher education – ranked among the top 10. Gonzalez will be retiring from his fifteen year long term as Dean of the School of Education this year.

Plan Commission Mulls New Parking Garage

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The Monroe County government is still waiting for a verdict on their plans to build a parking garage after more than two hours of debate Monday night. The eight-story garage would be next to the County jail on Morton Street. It would have 268 spaces reserved for county employees. The County needs approval from the Bloomington Plan Commission, which heard the case for a second time last night. The plans for the garage would require the plan commission to allow for eight exceptions to downtown building codes, including a 30-foot height variance. Although the garage has been reduced from nine floors to eight due to criticism during the February hearing on the project, there are still portions of the facility that reach 90 feet. Additionally, the project does not meet code for providing retail space on the first floor because the ground floor would be used as an emergency evacuation facility for the county jail.

County Commissioner Patrick Stoffers told the Plan Commission that approximately 250 county employees currently park in the Monroe County Convention Center parking lot, and that the county pays fifty thousand dollars a year to then shuttle employees to work. In an effort to reduce the size of the parking garage, the city offered to lease spaces in existing garages to the county. The County turned down that offer. City Council Member Steve Volan, who spoke during public comment, said that using county funds to build an additional garage was irresponsible.

Much of the public comment concentrated on the benefits of having high numbers of pedestrians downtown. Local Architect Mark Cornett said that downtown is increasingly becoming a “drive in, drive out” community, giving the example of a coffee shop located in Smallwood that had to close because students were bypassing the retail level and taking the elevator directly to their cars.  Already this year downtown development has caused Bloomington’s City Council to reexamine relationships between the plan commission, an appointed body, and the elected officials who serve on the council. Throughout Monday’s meeting, commissioners, staff, and the public spoke about last month’s approval of the large Graduate Hotel on Kirkwood Avenue, the relocation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital, the potential expansion of the convention center, and repeatedly called Smallwood Apartments “a mistake.” The city plan commission’s jurisdiction over what the county can build on its downtown land displays another conflict of authority, and multiple times throughout the meeting talk came up of county operations leaving downtown Bloomington. Commission member Chris Smith reproached the elected officials in the room for being behind in the creation of a growth policies plan, or GPP.

Speaking in favor of the parking garage were county council member Cheryl Munson and Larry Jacobs of the Chamber of Commerce. Along with Volan, city council member Dave Rollo also spoke against the project. And members of Decarcerate Monroe County objected to the ground floor blueprint, which they say looks unchanged since a jail work release proposal was dropped from the development plan. Because comission comment indicated the project would not pass if it were voted on, Commission president Jack Baker made a motion to continue the hearing for an additional month. That motion was passed 7-1, with commission member Jane St. John speaking against the trend of passing developments that do not reflect the community’s values.

The garage is scheduled to be considered again at the next Plan Commission meeting on April 13th.

Antiracist Speech Expected to Draw Protest

An antiracist speech tonight at Indiana University is expected to draw protests. Tim Wise, an author who describes himself as an antiracist activist, is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the IU Memorial Union. Wise has written six books on racism and white privilege. A small white nationalist group at IU has announced it will picket his speech. The group is known as the Traditionalist Youth Network. One of its most outspoken members, Thomas Buhls, has been associated with so-called white heritage protests in Bloomington for years. Buhls made national news in 2011 after police arrested him for distributing a Ku Klux Klan publication in Martinsville. A judge later said Buhls had the legal right to distribute the racist material. A counter protest is planned tonight in response to the Traditionalist Youth Network’s rally. Counter protesters are meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the circle drive in front of the Union. Wise, the author, has supported the counter protest in social media. In a Facebook post yesterday, Wise said,  “For progressive and antiracist folks in the Bloomington area, feel free to come and say hi, nonviolently of course, to your friendly neighborhood Nazis. If they can recruit racists, I can recruit antiracists.”

Local Middle School-Produced Documentary Wins National Award

Students from Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington took on issues with the No Child Left Behind Act in a documentary that just won a national award.

The students won Third Prize in a contest sponsored by C-SPAN. In order to participate, middle school and high school students from all over the nation had to answer the same question: how has a policy, legislation or action taken by one of the branches of the federal government affected you or your community?

Eighth Grade Students Sejal Rajamani, Nikki Nguyen and Piper Watson, with the support of their teacher, Jeff Rudkin, answered with their documentary titled “No Child Left Behind: Time to Change.”

“I think we’re emphasizing that No Child Left Behind is old and needs to change and standardized testing has a lot of flaws,” Rahamani says. “Although the government should be informed on how school’s are doing, standardized testing might not be the way to do it.”

When asked how No Child Left Behind has affected her life, she said it makes her feel stressed.

No Child Left Behind was passed under the George W. Bush administration. It has increased the time dedicated to standardised tests in the classroom. As a result, not only students, but also teachers and schools get evaluated solely on the performance of these tests. According to Rudkin other criteria should be taken into account.

“Do they do community service, things like that, a lot of things that play into a school’s grade rather than a single test that lasts a few weeks,” Rudkin says.

Many schools around the nation have also had to cut down on electives, to accommodate the time and money that taking this test demands.

“We’re lucky we have a school that still has electives and supports a well-rounded education,” Rudkin says. “But a lot of schools across the country are having to cut electives, like P.E., to focus on this test.

When asked about an alternative, Rudkin answered that the core idea of No Child Left Behind is commendable. He says it’s the way the law has been implemented through a single standardised test that fails to work.

The problem, says Rudkin, is that legislators are not willing to sit down to talk about the alternatives.

“The legislators aren’t willing to sit down and talk with teachers who have ideas on how to improve it,” he says.

For Nguyen, one of the students, the solution has to be found closer to home, within the community.

“I think we should bring it down to a local level so the people in the community can address what needs to be done because they probably know more about what’s going on in the community than the state or national government,” Nguyen says.

ISTEP+, the standardized test in the state of Indiana, is taken every Spring in subjects such as English and Math.

Employee Parking Garage Proposal

Tonight, the employee parking garage proposal from the Monroe County Commission will once again come before the Bloomington Plan Commission. Today, we spoke to Chris Sturbaum, a member of the Bloomington City Council and a member of the Plan Commission, about the proposal. He first explained why the initial county proposal was sent back for revision and what changes have been made in response.

“When the first proposal came out it was taller and it was uglier…we’ve been talking to them about making the front more attractive” said Sturbaum.

Sturbaum says the building’s proposed height is still a concern to the Commission. At 94 feet, it is considerably above the 50 foot standard limit for the area. But the city has approved several recent building proposals with heights more than 50 feet. That includes some immediate neighbors of the proposed garage. Furthermore, Sturbaum says the county’s efforts to keep most of its offices and other facilities in the downtown core, which complements the City’s efforts to densify this area, increase his willingness to approve the county garage proposal. New buildings in the area have also been required to include ground floor commercial space, in order to increase foot traffic and enliven the area generally. Sturbaum describes how the County has responded to this building provision.

Sturbaum said, “What’s peculiar about this building is it is taking the place of what they call “the cage” which is barbwire-topped metal fencing that technically is the overflow if there was some kind of emergency in the jail.”

Sturbaum says this unique county need should be accommodated by the Plan Commission. The county proposal also includes rooftop solar panels to power lighting for the facility. There is also provision for 10 electric vehicle plug in outlets and 20 spaces for bike parking. Sturbaum assumes that if future increases in need for these amenities can be relatively easily accommodated. Another issue is whether or not parking spaces in the county facility will be available to the general public during the working day or, especially, during the evening and on weekends and holidays.

“That was a request I specifically made and said, ‘the market is right across the street, could we work some kind of arrangement where market visitors could park in that garage?’ and what a great set up it would be” said Sturbaum.

Tonight’s Plan Commission Meeting is in the Bloomington Common Council Chambers, at City Hall, in the Showers Building, located at 401 North Morton Street, in downtown Bloomington. It was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. The general public is welcome to attend.

Susana Lopez of the National University of Mexico at IU this Wednesday

Virologist Susana Lopez of the National University of Mexico will be at IU this Wednesday to discuss her crusade against gastroenteritis as part of the 34th Joan Wood Lecture Series. The lecture is part of a series whose focus is allowing students to interact with women in science.

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes diarrhea and vomiting. Lopez is a molecular biologist whose work focuses on the rotavirus, the most likely cause of gastroenteritis in children.

According to a press release, she is specifically trying to understand how “rotavirus reacts to different forms of antiviral response activated in host cells upon infection.” She will discuss both the battle between viruses and cells and the methods she uses to research this phenomenon.

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gastroenteritis causes about 17,000 United States deaths annually. Adults over 65 account for 83 percent of those deaths. The lecture will be held at 4 p.m. on Wednesday in the Myers Hall Room 130.

A Dispute Over A Baseball Field In Kokomo Has Suspended Millions of Dollars To The State; Including Monroe County

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Monroe County is among many Indiana communities that have lost grant funds because of a dispute with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The federal agency has suspended millions of dollars in grants that had been allocated to projects in Indiana. The move was spurred by a conflict between FEMA and the city of Kokomo, which is building a new baseball stadium. FEMA contends the city of Kokomo is violating an agreement about leaving open space on eight properties purchased with federal grants. Kokomo has appealed in court. In the meantime, FEMA has responded in a way that removed money from communities statewide. Monroe County was one of 15 counties planning to update its hazard mitigation plans this year before FEMA cut funding. Here’s Jim Comerford, the director of Emergency Management for Monroe County.

The funding from FEMA, Comerford says, would have helped Monroe County and the 14 others pay for an outside vendor to assist in the updating of our hazard mitigation plans.

Having an updated mitigation plan would become an issue if a disaster were to affect Monroe County. Comerford says FEMA requires an up-to-date plan before distributing disaster relief funds.

FEMA’s hazard mitigation grants and assistance will not be given to Indiana counties again until the 8 parcels of land that are currently part of Kokomo’s new baseball stadium return to open space, or until the matter is sorted out in court.

Anthem Data Breach Could Be Of Concern For The Employees Of Monroe County

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The recent data breach at Anthem Insurance may affect some residents who work for Monroe County. The Monroe County Council heard a presentation on the potential effects last week. Human Resources manager Nancy Panzarella and IT director Eric Evans presented information about the breach, which compromised the security of personal information of about 80 million people insured by Anthem. Anthem is the health care provider for county employees. Evans said it is hard to know exactly what information the hackers took because Anthem is not disclosing much information at this point.

Evans said the information obtained was enough to present concerns about identify theft. He said hackers may try to obtain even more information from the individuals whose data they obtained.

Council member Ryan Cobine asked about the effectiveness of recent training given to county employees. Cobine suggested testing the employees by creating a fake scam to see if they would fall for it. Evans asked Cobine about the suggestion. Evans said that it was an idea, but that he did not know if it would be appropriate for this situation. Cobine then expressed his concerns as the legality of the practice.

Panzarella said she had made several attempts to contact Anthem to find out more specifics regarding whose data had actually been stolen. She said the company has not told her anything more than what they have published on their website in response to the attack. Anthem has said it will make direct contact with individuals whose information has definitely been compromised.

A New Bill Has Passed The State Senate Which Aims To Better Protect Personal Data

Another bill that is still alive in the state legislature aims to protect residents’ financial and personal data from being stolen, disseminated, or being used without the consent of the data owner. The bill tightens restrictions on data collectors by dictating how the information may be collected stored and used. This bill aims to remedy the problem of online identity theft by having businesses delete information that is no longer required for business purposes and refrain from the selling of data that breaches users good faith. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week and now awaits a final vote in the House.

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