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Gov. Pence Eliminates CECI, Pushes For Appointed Board Of Education Chair

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The long running dispute between Indiana Governor Mike Pence and State Superintendent of Education Glenda Ritz seems to have switched battlegrounds.

Both won their respective offices on fundamentally opposing education policy platforms. Pence adheres to the nation-wide Republican promotion of what has been labelled “school choice”, which means the use of public funds to finance vouchers for private schools and turning under-performing public schools into privately controlled charter schools.

Ritz, a former school librarian, teacher’s union leader, and public education activist, ran on a platform of strengthening public schools and against the increasing emphasis on high stakes state-wide tests, the state-run school grading system, the shift to performance based teacher pay, and what she and her allies saw as the general devaluation of the teaching profession.

This ideological opposition was aggravated when e-mails were discovered showing that Ritz’s predecessor – Tony Bennett, a former gym teacher and the GOP candidate who Ritz defeated – had tried to manipulate the school grading system for the benefit of a favored charter school while he was in office. Republicans blamed Ritz for the e-mail release. Tensions mounted when, soon after Ritz took office, Pence created the Center for Education and Career Innovation, C.E.C.I., to reside within his office and staffed with his personal appointees. Ritz viewed Pence’s creation of a parallel education department as an attempt to usurp her policy making power.

Ritz sued Pence, charging a violation of her constitutional powers. The suit was dismissed on a technicality last fall. However, this issue became moot when Pence announced last week that he was dissolving his education center effective February 20th. He coupled this move with an announcement that he would be requesting the state assembly pass legislation allowing the state board of education to elect its chair. The superintendent is by law automatically chair of the board. However, the Governor appoints the other ten members of the board.

Mark Stoops, member of the state senate for district 40, which includes all of Bloomington and most of Monroe and Brown Counties, is a member of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

“I’d like to think Pence saw the writing on the wall and I think what this means is they’ve decided to go after Ritz and make her elected position an appointed position,” Stoops says. “That’s a real problem.”

Since the mid-19th century Indiana’s constitution has recognized the office of education superintendent as separate from all other branches of state government and it is unique under state law in being the only elected government department head. Consequently, Ritz and others have seen Pence’s efforts to usurp Ritz’s power as being in violation of the state constitution and the state code.

However, Senator Stoops does not hold to this view.

“I believe that the legislature votes and approves a measure to remove Superintendent of Public Instruction as automatic chair of the Board of Education, that would probably be legal,” Stoops says.

Since her election, Ritz has found support in the state assembly for many of her policies, in particular the senate supported maintaining federal Common Core standards.

However, Senator Stoops thinks that the majority of the members of the General Assembly will go along with Pence’s campaign against the current superintendent of education.

“Unfortunately I think the message from the past election is that the public doesn’t really care what they do and they’ll use that as an opportunity to push more privatized public education,” Stoops says.

Senator Stoops noted that several candidates running as democrats during the last election, some of them teachers and principals, and strong advocates of public schooling, were leading in the polls up to the election. However, they were defeated after a last minute mailing from the Republicans claiming support for public education, and promising to increase funding for the public system.

“I think we have to be wary because some schools are seriously close to being in a position of being taken over, and people need to understand that this is imminent,” Stoops says. “This is something we could see in Monroe County pretty soon.”

Indiana already leads the nation in the creation of charter schools. Governor Pence has promised to increase the pace of this process.

Hollywood Producer To Teach At IU’s New Media School

Indiana University alumnus and Hollywood producer Michael Uslan is joining the new Indiana University Media School as a Professor of Practice in film.

Uslan has three decades of experience in motion picture, television, and internet work. His work includes executive producer of 1989’s “Batman” movie, later sequels including the academy award-winning “The Dark Knight,” and “National Treasure.” He is also the author of a fundamental textbook on comics and 25 other books on the history of comics and other topics.

Uslan earned a bachelors degree in history, a masters degree in education, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence, all from Indiana University.

While teaching at IU, Uslan will continue his off-campus work in motion pictures, television, and interactive and international media. In a press release, Uslan praised IU’s new Media School program calling it a premiere location between New York and Hollywood for students to prepare for careers in the film industry.

The newly appointed Uslan will speak about his transition from IU graduate to Hollywood producer at 7 p.m on Wednesday, October 22 at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union.

State Board of Education Delays Release Of Indiana School’s A-F Grades

The Indiana State Board of Education delayed the release of the Department of Education’s A-to-F School Accountability grades until November 5.

Representatives of public, private and charter schools feel criteria for the grades are unfair and addressed their concerns to the board at their meeting October 15th. According to the DOE’s website, Indiana’s school grading system provides communities with a clear and concise assessment of how their schools are performing. State law requires the state to intervene in a school that receives an “F” for six consecutive years.

Though the grades are not yet official, the Herald Times reported that Bloomington’s Fairview School will likely receive its third “F” this year. Accountability findings are based on eight data points established to measure each school’s final grade.

In previous board meetings, the SBOE established criteria for an appeals process and amidst protests from “atypically configured” schools, or schools that don’t fall within the language of the accountability rule, the SBOE voted to assess atypical schools on a case-by-case basis rather than force a formulaic approach.

Board member Dr. Brad Oliver, Sixth District representative, noted that it was important to focus on what he referred to as “substantive due process” and to apply a common sense approach to grading schools.

“If these letter grades don’t communicate something reasonable based on the data, what good are they anyway?” Oliver says.

Several schools protested DOE findings, claiming final letter grades were based on only two of the eight possible data points gathered, thus judging the school on only a fourth of their population. SBOE board member Sarah O’Brien, Fourth District Representative, wants the grading system to have integrity.

“When we release all of these grades across the state, I want them to mean something. Looking at the data before us, I’m going to make sure I do whatever I can within statute and rule to make sure that the letter grades match what we’re seeing in those buildings,” O’Brien says.

IU To Dedicate New Media School And Ernie Pyle Sculpture

On Friday, October 17 Indiana University will inaugurate its newest school on the Bloomington campus, the Media School, with the dedication of a new sculpture of IU alumnus and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Ernie Pyle.

The sculptor is Harold Langland, professor emeritus, who taught at IU South Bend from 1971-2001.

According to IU officials, Langland will present the sculpture to IU President Michael McRobbie at a public ceremony beginning at 2 p.m. in Franklin Hall, the future home of the Media School.

Previously Langland created a sculpture of IU’s legendary President and Chancellor Herman B. Wells. That sculpture, seated on a bench near the student union, has become a popular spot for photographers as well as students and visitors.

The Media School is now envisioned as IU’s pre-eminent site for teaching, research and service about the understanding and production of media by combining over 70 faculty members specializing in journalism, cinema, communications and culture, and electronic telecommunication programs.

“The fluid technology environment of the 21st century offers our students and faculty and opportunity to boldly imagine the shape of media in the coming decades,” Larry D. Songell, executive Dean of Arts and Sciences says.

Meanwhile, this new academic unit within the College of Arts and Sciences is now in search of its first dean at the same time that renovation of Franklin Hall itself will soon begin.

Animal Rights Group Stages Monthly Protest At Bloomington Chiptole

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On Saturday, September 27 an animal rights activist group named Direct Action Everywhere staged a protest at Bloomington’s Chipotle Grill on Kirkwood street.

Jeff Melton, the local organizer for Direct Action Everywhere, says he and another protester went to Chipotle to protest their business practices and claims.

Melton says that the group takes issue with all fast food chains for their source of factory farmed meat products, but that businesses like Chipotle and Whole Foods that brand themselves misleadingly are a high concern. The protest matches others nationwide as part of a larger month-long effort by Direct Action Everywhere against species-ism.

Species-ism is defined as the exploitation of nonhuman animals for their meat, skins, their labor, or in scientific experiments. Melton says that they did not receive the hostility that protesters elsewhere have received, and that some people approached the protesters after the demonstration to gain more information.

Chipotle advertises its offerings as “food with integrity” and offers information on their website about the benefits to “naturally” raised farm animals. They also state that “Though the process is more complex, we are trying to find suppliers who can provide us with pasture-raised poultry and pork. Eventually, we want all of our meat to come from suppliers who meet these standards. We’re definitely working on it. Stay tuned.”

Direct Action Everywhere estimates that more than 100,000 animals are killed to be eaten each  minute world wide, and points out that undercover investigations have shown factory farms to terminate animals in cruel ways while they are still conscious.

Melton says that he chooses to demonstrate support for animals because they can not advocate for themselves.

Monroe County Schools Start This Week

Local public schools opened to new and returning students Monday. Bev Smith, a spokesperson for the Monroe County Community School Corporation says that August 4 was the earliest the schools had opened for many years. This increasingly early start coincides with an early finish to the school year in year, in mid-May.

No final numbers have been tabulated as to student enrollment for the this school year. The 2013-2014 year ended with over 10,000 students. For the last few years, the district has averaged between 10 and 11 thousand children.

Smith says that the district will be working on incorporating the new state mandated and generated common core curricular standards into the school lessons. The district is also working on what it calls cultural competency, which  entails increasing diversity among faculty and classroom content, so as to improve the academic performance of minorities. These programs could help schools such as Fairview Elementary which has been given a F grade by state for the last few years.

“Looking at Fairview and really fine-tuning what’s going on there, again we have a new principal there in place which brings a great deal of experience so we look forward to what his experience will yield and mean for Fairview and its quest to improve not only a grade that it receives from the state but really showing and showcasing what children learn and know,” Smith says.

At the other end of the performance spectrum are the schools at which the district hopes to introduce international baccaleureate programs.

 

 

 

 

Hoosiers Can Celebrate LGBQT Culture Despite Indiana’s Ruling on Gay Marriage

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Despite Indiana’s stay on gay marriage, Hoosiers can still celebrate LGBQT culture this summer. PRIDE festivals are happening all over Indiana and Bloomington will host its first PRIDE this September. Correspondent Sierra Gardner talks with PRIDE Director Sarah Perfetti and Sigma Phi Beta PRIDE Chairman Ty Adams about their plans for Bloomington PRIDE for this week’s Daily Local News feature.

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IU, After Local Pressure, Alters Plan To Demolish 6 Historic Houses

Indiana University will be deciding this week on the fate of six historic Bloomington houses.

Last year, IU announced plans to build a new law school facility on land currently occupied by Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, commonly known as FeeGee. IU agreed to build a new facility for the fraternity on the 800 block of E 8th St which is part of the University Courts historic district. The area has been placed on the state historic register since 1992 and on the national historic register since 2007.

Alarm over IU’s demolition plan of the homes prompted the City of Bloomington to place the district on its list of local historic districts this spring. This designation requires city approval for any development plan in the area, but there is dispute as to whether state owned property would be exempt from the city purview. A legal opinion solicited by Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana found credible argument for the designation to apply to the demolition of the eight street homes even though they are owned by IU.

Beyond the legal rights, IU has come under considerable pressure from the local residents, the Historic Preservation Commission of the City, members of City Council and the Mayor, to preserve the houses slated for demolition, and according to an agenda released today, IU seems to have listened.

The IU Trustees Facilities Committee will be looking at a new proposal that would move four of the houses a block to the west, while still demolishing two properties. Philip Eskew, an IU trustee and chair of Facilities Committee, explains what prompted the alteration of the plan.

“We’ve worked with the mayor, the council and the historical group in Bloomington to listen to their concerns,” Eskew says. “We are recommending to the trustees that we change what we had initially said tearing down the houses and instead move the four worthy of being saved.”

Eskew affirmed that the university believes that it has the legal right to dispose of the houses any way it sees fit.

A bill introduced into the Indiana legislature earlier this year by local state representative Matt Pierce would have required public institutions seeking to demolish, move or change the exterior of a university building within a historic preservation district to obtain a certificate of appropriateness before commencing work.

In Bloomington, it would be the City’s Historic Preservation Commission that would control the certification process. However, the bill failed to make it to the floor of the House in time for passage during this year’s session.

Nevertheless, the local pressure seems to have had some impact on IU.

“There were several groups, even neighbors, that spoke about the tearing down of the houses,” Eskew says. “I think this is a reaction to that and we’re trying to be good neighbors with the community, as we always have been.”

The meeting of the trustees that will be addressing this item will be on the South Bend Campus of IU.

Eskew says the committee will make a recommendation and act on the action items.

The Facilities Committee of the Trustees meeting on Thursday will be from 3:15 to 5 p.m. The full Trustees meeting on Friday will be from 12:45 to 2 p.m. Both will be in combined rooms 221, 223 and 225 of the Student Activity Center of IU South Bend. Both meetings are open to the public.

Hoosier Hills Food Bank Provides Monthly Food Boxes To Low-Income Seniors

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Starting in June, Hoosier Hills Food Bank (HHFB) will begin providing monthly boxes of food for up to 100 low-income senior citizens in Monroe County. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program is already operational in Brown, Crawford, Orange, and Martin counties.

Potentially eligible seniors must complete a program application and will be scheduled for an interview to document their eligibility. Casey Steury, the Director of Programs for HHFB, says to be eligible, they must be 60 and over, live in Monroe County and be 130% of the poverty level or less.

Funding for the program is  provided by the US Department of Agriculture and Indiana State Department of Health, but Steury says that volunteer power is really what runs the program, and that without volunteers getting the word out about the program, many eligible seniors who don’t have access to internet or newspapers wouldn’t know that help was available.

The HHFB provides food for soup kitchens and shelters but the monthly food delivery program is the one time they get to interact directly with the people who benefit from their work.

“This senior program is the one program where we actually get to hand boxes directly to these seniors,” Steury says. “Because they get this food they don’t have to decide between buying food or medicine this month.”

The seniors then provide feedback on how this program has helped to improved their lives.

About 7% of Monroe County’s senior population are living below the poverty level.

Some Downtown Bloomington Businesses Open Despite Cold Weather

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Non-emergency county and city offices were closed today, as well as Indiana University, many IU Health Bloomington Hospital programs and all area schools. However, several local businesses had their “open” signs turned on despite the slick conditions and dangerously low temperatures.

Downtown outfitter JL Waters’ “open” sign shined through the frosty windows. Employees Emily Hodapp and Kimberly Webber and their canine pal Ranger were in the store and explained why they were open for business today.

“Out of all the stores, the adventure store should be open… No such thing as bad weather, just bad gear,” they said.

Hodapp, the assistant manager at JL Waters, says to choose fleece and down and synthetic insulation in winter gear, and for days like today, to take into account the temperature difference that occurs due to high winds

“We’ve got a lot of things that are wind-stopping, not just wind-blocking, but wind-stopping,” said Hodapp.

Webber also recommend base layers with synthetic or wool materials. Though inside the store things were lively as the employees took advantage of the slow customer flow to rearrange parts of the store, the downtown square was almost entirely vacant.

“Completely dead, pretty much. No one’s braving it. The roads aren’t that bad if you’ve got 4-wheel drive. I’m not saying ‘get out there and risk your life’ or anything, but go play! It’s so sunny! It’s not that bad.”

For those who were in need of a hot meal, the Scholars Inn Bakehouse and Darn Good Soup were both open and serving customers, though like JL Waters, the slow business meant they would close early today before normal quitting hours. Nels Brunner, the owner of Darn Good Soup, said:

“It’s been pretty slow, really. I thought it would be busier. It’s been busy enough to be worth being open, but nothing to write home about.”

Parking meters in downtown Bloomington will not be enforced until 8am on Wednesday.

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