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Monday, February 06, 2012

Indiana As An Example of the Failure of One Party Government

By JEFF SCHULTZ Eleven northern Indiana lawmakers attended the Indiana State Teachers Association legislative breakfast on Saturday, not just for free coffee and doughnuts but to share insights with educators on contentious bills circulating thorough the General Assembly. The event at Michigan City High School drew all four Duneland legislators and a surprise visit from Indiana House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend. Bauer, an educator himself, urged teachers to continue taking a stand against the majority of Republican lawmakers introducing bills that include vouchers, restricting teacher’s bargaining rights, transforming public schools into turnaround academies and allowing schools to teach creationism from the viewpoints of various religions. “You’ve got to fight because if you don’t, they will take away all of your rights,” said Bauer, telling teachers to speak with their voices firm, loud and with conviction. “You are the target. Don’t forget it.” Bauer said whenever there is such a difference in the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Statehouse as there is now, that is the time when radical bills make their way into state law. He hinted a change in power could be coming as a result of this year’s state elections. “We need balance in this state. When we have balance, we have success.” Indiana Assistant Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, deemed last year as the “worst for public education” since he’s been in office, mentioning the massive cuts public schools have endured. The laws on vouchers and school takeovers are already in effect and Pelath said his next move would be to see that some funding is restored and investment made in programs such as full-day kindergarten and early education. “We can’t undo what’s been done but we will do our best going forward,” said Pelath. Pelath said effective ways for constituents to have their views heard would be to stop “trying to finesse and cajole” state lawmakers and become more involved at the community level such as starting discussion groups, blogs and writing letters to the newspaper. Echoing Pelath’s comments, State Rep. Nancy Dembowski, D-Knox, said citizens should never underestimate the power of working as a group. Dembowski said building an educated workforce would surpass right-to-work in terms of creating jobs and advocated investing the $320 million found in an “unnoticed fund,” before the Assembly began, entirely into public education since that was roughly the same amount cut in 2010. State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, a member of the Budget Committee, said the $320 million was corporate income tax that was “stuck in the drawer” and she and fellow committee members made cuts wondering why revenue forecasts were not being met. She insisted the money should go to programs that were axed. “These cuts have to be put back in the next budget cycles. They have to be,” Tallian said. Weighing in on funding, State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said his bill to ban smoking in public places statewide could indirectly generate more state revenue. Approximately $1 billion is spent in Indiana due to the effects of secondhand smoke and less health problems would mean being able to pay for children’s education or helping families put food on the table. While many local legislators expressed the need to increase the number of students participating in Kindergarten (more than 21 percent of Kindergarten-aged children are not enrolled), a bill authored by Tallian, D-Portage, mandating half day kindergarten did not even receive a hearing. However, full-day kindergarten could get an $80 million boost from the House Ways and Means committee proposed by chairman State Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale. A large portion of the $320 million has also been considered for teacher pension funds. Meanwhile, ISTA Public Education Advocacy Coordinator Nancy Papas thanked State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, for coordinating with ISTA on legislation that would help schools be tested more fairly. Senate Bill 265, co-authored by Charbonneau would drop the lowest five percent of student scores on ISTEP testing on one of the two report cards sent to the state. A second bill, Senate Bill 280, would change school funding to be based on a fiscal year rather than a calendar year in order to streamline schools with the state budget which is determined every two years. SB 280 could bring $30 million to schools a little earlier in these crucial times, although none of those contains any new money, Charbonneau said. Running on a fiscal year will also make it easier for schools to understand how much funding will be coming their way, Charbonneau said. Soliday worked language into a bill that calls for the state testing reports to exclude students who cannot read or write in the English language. Schools in the lowest category of ISTEP scores are targeted to become turnaround academies where a special management team is appointed by the state to replace a community school board, thus creating an “independent” school. As the amount of testing continues, Papas said more teachers are finding themselves working long hours into the night just to fill out paperwork “burning themselves out” when they should be spending more time preparing lesson plans or other student activities. “There is so much more to a school than a test score,” said Papas. Soliday said he finds the pay-per-performance approach for teachers a less than effective way of solving problems and said the state needs to start changing its way of thinking by holding management liable for when a school is failing. “Holding a manager accountable is how you get things done,” said Soliday. Many of the laws passed in the 2011 General Assembly for items like school vouchers are being watched over by house members to see just what effect the new laws will have before any other major changes are made, Soliday said. State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, encouraged teachers to form an association or be part of a movement against the “painful changes.” “Change is what it is by description. It’s not a permanent thing,” he said. Papas said parents can also do their part by understanding their child’s needs. More parents are unfortunately finding less time to spend with their children because of long work hours, she said. Members of the audience included a number of Valparaiso teachers who reminded the legislators of the $3.2 million shortfall in the school district’s General Fund for 2012, and without any relief money coming from the state, many teachers are concerned about whether the schools can perform basic functions. “We’re in a crisis,” one teacher said. Valparaiso Community School board is considering a voter referendum on creating a special tax levy to salvage staff and curriculum, not unlike the Duneland School Corporation which is contemplating establishing a new property tax as an additional revenue source. The Duneland School Board will host two public input sessions this week, the first of which begins tonight at 7 p.m. in the Chesterton High School auditorium, followed by a second session on Thursday. Duneland School Board member Ralph Ayres said the board must decide at their Feb. 13 meeting whether to pursue a referendum in time for the May 8 primary elections and that is why it is crucial to hear from local residents this week. The legislators will gather again on Saturday, Feb. 25 for another public forum hosted by the Indiana Retired Teachers’ Association at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Valparaiso at 9:30 a.m., UniservDirector of ISTA Andrew Borrelli announced. The discussion which will include a broad range of public policy bills will be moderated by Ayres, a former state representative. Posted 2/6/2012

Another Blast From The Past, Circa 2008

As I suspected, the Channel 11 News Report, which has been picked up by Indian Country publications around the country, incorrectly characterized our Tribal governments as perpetrators rather than the victims of mismanagement. The thrust of the report is that the BIA and the IRRP program mismanaged the funds, failed to fill technical positions despite the availability of funds and failed to provide the oversight required as the fiduciary agency. As a result, needed Tribal infrastructure has not been built. I will call and get details on the $14 M fiasco but, I suspect, it wasn’t a single Village, although it was characterized as such. Channel 11’s presentation of the finding was misleading. Channel 11 states... “In the federal audit- of $32 million D.O.T. dollars handed out to Alaska Native communities every year only $3 to 4 million worth of road projects were actually verified as completed.” ...While the Report states “While 32 million in program funding was distributed to approximately 230 Alaska Native communities each year, only about $3 to $4 Million in road projects had any physical oversight or verification of work completed.” The first implies that only 3 or 4 million were completed. That is NOT true; the Report says that there was oversight provided on $3 or $4 Million dollars worth of projects meaning that we DO NOT KNOW the status of the other $28 M worth of projects. The point being NOT that $28 M worth of projects was mismanaged or incomplete, but that the OVERSIGHT over $28 M in projects was not provided. This is a VERY IMPORTANT difference. The Channel 11 spin implies that there is $28 M in failed projects and that is not what the report says. One of the specific instances cited in the report involves a $2 M unauthorized road project where the BIA itself was responsible for the directing that unauthorized use not the Tribe. The most egregious error in the Channel 11 report, however, is the following statement: “The letter from the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior to Secretary Ken Salazar warns; give Alaska Native tribal governments money and they will likely misuse it.” [Emphasis added] NOWHERE in the IG’s transmittal letter to Secretary Salazar was this stated. This conclusion was fabricated by Ms Gusty or her staff. Finally, the Report is, itself, not the source documentation and raises as many questions as it answers. 1. The $14 M conversion of funds to support tourism is vague. How exactly were those funds expended? Was it on a related road project or was it spent on non-transportation services? If it was the former, then there is some mitigation of value and benefit; if not, then the misuse is even more eggregious; 2. The “overtime” may have been a result of severe winter weather conditions required airport/road maintenance and the absence of qualified personnel. It may have been associated with emergency erosion or flooding. Again, there is insufficient data to judge. It is neither surprising nor shocking to me that the bureaucrats in charge of the program were unable to explain the circumstances. Having said all this, there appear to be at least one real instance of misuse/fraud on the local level; namely, the $500,000 used to purchase a restaurant/bar. Mismanagement, including failure to complete timely reports, is also doubtless rife throughout the villages. This speaks to the issue of capacity-building and local project management support. Elstun W. Lauesen,

Saturday, February 04, 2012

BLAST FROM THE PAST-Letter to the Editor 10.10.09

'Efficient' system not always the best In response to the flag-waving chest-thumpers attacking Michael Moore for his movie "Capitalism: A Love Story," here's a bit of shocking news: 1. Capitalism is not a pure system or 2. Socialism is not devoid of enterprise. Americans who paid attention during the debate over auto bailout/loans from Congress should have picked up on a major point that American manufacturers made about their competitive disadvantage: European and Japanese socialism. The social safety net and health-care system provided through taxpayers in Europe and Japan effectively moves the unemployment insurance and health care cost "off the books" and away from the price of labor. America insists on financing those costs through an employer-based system, which pushes up commodity pricing. Since health care insurance costs are now almost 30 percent of labor pricing, the sacrifice comes out of wages. All that "efficiency" that politicians like to brag about? That is a result of more production with lower labor cost. Based on that theory of labor productivity, the cotton industry in the South before the Civil War was highly efficient. -- Elstun W. Lauesen Anchorage Read more here: