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Budget Hurts Some Schools, Spares MCCSC

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Changes to Indiana’s school funding formula are expected to hurt large urban districts throughout the state. But they may benefit some local schools in Monroe County. Indiana lawmakers finished the 2015 legislative session last night. The legislature passed a two-year budget that includes a $464 million increase in education spending. State Representative Matt Pierce, a Democrat who represents most of Bloomington, is critical of the education budget. But he says the Monroe County Community School Corporation should do comparatively well under the new funding formula.

“MCCSC does fairly well  in the funding formula” Pierce says. However State Representative Matt Pierce when on to say, ” People who attend more rural schools are going have difficulty…then you have urban schools like, Gary or Indianapolis public school systems, they’re getting really hammered”.

Republican leaders in Indiana, including Governor Mike Pence, praised the new state budget today. They issued statements pointing out the budget is balanced and includes no new tax increases. In a press conference this morning, Pence indicated he would sign the budget bill into law.

State Senate Pro Tem David Long issued a press release today stating QUOTE “The budget maintains Indiana’s hard-fought reserve funds and prioritizes education funding” UNQUOTE. But statements like those from Pence and Long don’t tell the whole story.

“They’re not going to talk about about the things that aren’t getting done so they had to take several million dollars out of local road funding” Pierce exclaimed. He continued  ”So we’re going to have more pot holes, more crumbling infrastructure and the transportation system is going to decline.”

Despite his criticisms, Peirce was supportive of a part of the new budget targeted at criminal justice. The legislature allocated $60 million partly to help pay for local probation and community corrections programs. Those programs have been strained after the legislature changed the criminal code last year. Many offenders are now being sent to local programs rather than state prisons. Pierce said the local programs need the money but he was frustrated the legislature insisted on funneling the new funding through the state Department of Corrections.

“I think that’s a big mistake because the department of corrections has been missing in action in trying to improve our system” Pierce says. “Their hearts not going to be in what we need to get done on the local level.”

The legislature also passed a measure allowing limited needle exchange programs to open around the state. Indiana law generally outlaws those programs, but Governor Pence has suspended the rules recently in Scott County, where an HIV outbreak is linked to sharing needles. Under the new law, a county would have to prove there is a public health emergency in order to set up a needle exchange program.  Critics say counties will probably be reluctant to declare such an emergency for fear of attracting negative publicity.

Single Lanes Begin Tonight On State Road 37

Starting tonight shoulder lanes on State Road 37 will be closed for construction.  The I-69 Development Partners Team announced single lane closures of both the northbound and southbound driving lanes on State Road 37 from That road to State Road 46. Weather permitting the construction will be finished by May 31st.

City Council Considers Barbecue Smoke

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The Bloomington City Council dealt with smoking last week. Not cigarette smoking but rather meat smoking, specifically smoke exhaust from barbecue grilling at the Short Stop Food Mart on Smith Road. The issue came up after the business owner asked the Council to approve an expansion of the building’s seating capacity. The smoke issue came up because the increase in seating could also mean more customers and thus more barbequeing. City Council member Marty Spechler, who represents the District where the Short Stop is located, raised the issue with the business owner, Chris Smith.  Smith responded by saying that he would not be putting in more grills than he has now unless the smoker’s were indoors.

The barbecue smoke exhaust issue was not technically part of the petition before the Council, since it apparently is allowed by the current zoning for the space. This left a long-time neighbor of the Short Stop frustrated.  Hank West says that he believes that the smoke is an issue and that zoning and planning conditions should be put into place.

West went on to contrast the city’s strict enforcement of the non-smoking in restaurants ordinance with its attitude toward restaurant barbecue smoke exhaust. He said barbecue smoke is considered by the EPA to be more toxic than second-hand cigarette smoke. Several council members noted the city currently has no ordinances restricting restaurant barbecue exhaust. They said it would be unfair to block the Short Stop expansion until such an ordinance is created. The Council later voted to grant the expansion of indoor seating capacity at the Short Stop Food Mart.

 

Indianapolis Improving But Still Faces Pollution Problems

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The American Lung Association released a report today that ranked Indianapolis the 23rd most polluted city in the nation for short term particle pollution. But despite that ranking, the report says Indiana has been making some progress in reducing pollution levels. Ever since the first State of the Air Report was released 16 years ago, air quality in the state has generally improved. Healthy Air campaign manager Mike Kolleng says the Lung Association’s findings this year were mixed.  He believes that new standards should also be unveiled that are capable of getting ahead of climate change.

Kolleng says updating our standards for handling pollution is crucial. Unfortunately, he says Indiana faces trouble making this kind of progress at the state level.  He stated that the governor opposes new ozone standards and this does not reflect the information that we now have.

One of the American Lung Associations primary goals is to update ozone standards. Kolleng stresses that current limits should be reduced by about 10%. He also stresses that ozone management really is a national issue and that anytime that ozone levels decrease it is helping the entire population as a whole.

The report from the American Lung Association presents a more complex picture than a statement released just two weeks ago by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. That statement said simply that air quality is improving throughout the state. It stated “nearly all Hoosiers live and work in areas that meet all federal air quality standards.”  You can read the full report from the American Lung association at StateOfTheAir.org.

Indiana University Offering Free Counseling Services to Students

Indiana University is offering free counseling services to students following the murder of IU senior Hannah Wilson on Friday. IU Counseling and Psychological Services Director Nancy Stockton says counselors have already visited the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, where Wilson was a member. Any students who seek services for grief, anxiety or other issues related to Wilson’s death will not be charged a fee.

Wilson’s body was found in a vacant lot in Brown County on Friday. Police arrested Bloomington resident Daniel Messel on Friday and formally charged him with murder this morning. Stockton says some students may still be in shock after hearing the news.

Stockton further explained, “People are distraught. They frequently go through a period of being in shock, of feeling disbelief, of almost denial that anything so horrific has happened. Slowly psychologically things sink in… Sometimes it takes a little while for things to really sink in and for the student to be ready to talk to someone about it. So sometimes they don’t actually seek out counselling for a few days or sometimes even weeks.”

Stockton encouraged students to keep an eye out for friends who might be in distress. She says these kinds of events can affect more than just those who were close to the victim.

Stockton said, “Others can be indirectly affected… Even though they may not have know Hannah, this can have a considerable impact on them.”

According to a probable cause statement filed by State Police, Wilson’s friends last saw her about 1 a.m. Friday morning when she got into a taxi outside Kilroy’s Sports Bar. Wilson had been drinking and her friends decided she was too intoxicated to enter the bar. When police found her body, they found Messel’s cell phone nearby, according to the statement. Later they found Messel, who they say had claw marks on his forearms and blood splattered on the driver’s side of his car.

Messel is currently being held without bond in the Brown County Jail. Students looking for counseling or other help after normal business hours can call the Counseling and Psychological Services crisis line at 812-855-5711.

The State Is Offering Energy Consumption Grants To Religious Institutions

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Five new religious congregations have received state grants to reduce their energy consumption. A press release from the Center for Sustainable Living says these five new congregations will seek to reduce their energy use by 25 to 40 percent. The 100,000 dollar grant was awarded by the Indiana Office of Energy Development and will be split between five congregations. The congregations receiving the grant will also urge their members to cut down on their household energy use. Romel says there are benefits to religious organizations receiving these kinds of grants including reaching a larger audience.

The Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light has been leading the Seventh Day Initiative that seeks to urge religious communities of various backgrounds to cut down on their energy use. One of the measures they take is aimed at teaching younger people about the importance of conserving energy.

One local congregation that has benefited from the grant is the Bloomington Friends Meeting, a collection of Quakers who joined the Seventh Day Initiative out of concern for climate change.

The City Is Seeking To Amend The Rising Cost Of Sludge

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Bloomington is facing rapidly escalating costs for disposal of sludge from its wastewater treatment facility. Sludge is the solid that remains after waste-water treatment and liquid removal. The Utilities Service Board of the city heard a presentation from Efrat Feferman, Assistant Director of Finance for city’s Utilities Department on the rising costs and possible short-term responses. Feferman says that the costs have risen substantially each successive year.

These are external costs to the department for removal and disposal by private contractors. Feferman predicted that this year’s costs will probably reach three-hundred thousand dollars unless changes are made. Only one-hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars has been budgeted for the entire year for this item. The department has done an analysis of what it would cost the department if the city took control of the removal and disposal process. They have also solicited two bids from private companies for managing sludge removal to city landfills. However, it is anticipated that the city’s landfills will reach capacity in two or three years. John Langley, Deputy Director of the Department, explained to the Board that the rising cost of sludge disposal is due to rising volumes. He then told the Board about some of the changes that the Department has adopted to reduce this volume which includes no longer taking any out of county waste disposal and discouraging the use of garbage disposals.

The board also heard from Tamara Roberts, Pretreatment Co-ordinator for the Utilities Department, about two treatment compliance orders the department issued against two local businesses, Upland Brewery and Organized Living. These Significant Non-Compliance orders, or SNO’s, were issued due to the discovery of excessive phosphorous in the waste-water of both, and excessive zinc and copper in the latter’s. The orders require a lowering of these discharges and subjection to monthly inspection by the utilities department.

Report: Indiana School Voucher Program Participation Reaching Peak

School voucher demand in Indiana is leveling off, according to a report from Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy published last month. The report titled “Mapping the Growth of Statewide Voucher Programs in the United States” tracked publicly- funded school voucher programs in Ohio, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Indiana. Voucher programs cover private school tuition for students from low-income families given that they meet eligibility requirements. Indiana’s voucher program, The Indiana Choice Scholarship Program has been in place since 2011 and offers students a variety of ways to meet eligibility to attend private schools, such as having a sibling enrolled in the program or attending public school for one year. The program offers both ninety-percent coverage and fifty-percent coverage scholarships depending on a family’s income level. In the first two years of its implementation, only about half of the available scholarships were used. Most recently, legislators have removed the enrollment cap, and participation in the program increased approximately one hundred and seventeen percent from the previous year. However, the question remains on whether these numbers will continue to increase. Publicly-funded voucher programs face critics who say that money is being funneled away from public education to private, often religious, institutions.

Major Challenges for Bloomingfoods

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Bloomington’s local co-op grocery is undergoing major challenges. That is how a press release from Bloomingfoods describes recent developments there.

Tim Clougher, the former board president, has resigned and been replaced by another board member, Caroline Beebe. At the same time, Bloomingfoods has invited a national organization to review its operations.

Last week, the Daily Local News ran a feature interview with a co-op member, Keith Taylor, who had been circulating a petition that demanded just such a review or an audit. Taylor also researches cooperatives at the Ostrom Workshop at IU. He also stated that he had access to most of the board and many of its employees. He had come to the conclusion that Bloomingfoods may not survive the imminent arrival of competition unless it made significant changes.

The Bloomingfoods press release acknowledges major challenges, mentioning the announcements from Lucky’s Market and from Wholefoods that they were opening stores in town. It didn’t mention that the recently renovated Kroger on College Mall Road has an expanded natural and whole foods section, an area in which Bloomingfoods has specialized.

Bloomingfoods announced that it has asked for the assistance of the National Co-operative Grocers Association, the leading professional organization of this sector, to which Bloomingfoods belongs. The external reviewers have been scheduled to pay a site visit at the end of April. In the interest of full disclosure, Bloomingfoods is an underwriter at WFHB.

Monroe County Courthouse Closed Temporarily

Monroe County has announced an impromptu closure of the County Courthouse tomorrow. Valerie Haughton, the presiding judge of the Monroe County Circuit Court, says a septic backup at the courthouse has forced the building to close down. Haughton says all court dates scheduled tomorrow are canceled. Anyone scheduled to attend court tomorrow should contact the Office of Court Services about rescheduling. Haughton says it’s currently unclear whether the situation at the Courthouse could pose threats to the health of anyone inside the building. Hazardous materials experts are scheduled to inspect the building tomorrow. It’s not yet clear whether the building will reopen on Wednesday.

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