- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Kokomo Tribune. July 29, 2016

Save money; finish faster.

The percentage of adults with college degrees in Indiana has dropped over the last decade. The Hoosier State’s college attainment rate is 42nd in the nation.

There is an urgency to raise the completion rates of two-year and four-year college degrees, as well as workforce credentials. And in 2014, the state took significant steps to help more students graduate on time.

The Indiana Commission for Higher Education launched an initiative to keep college students on track for graduation. Called “15 to Finish,” it encourages students to take at least 15 credit hours each semester.

To graduate on time, students need to complete a minimum of 30 credits per year, or 15 per semester. But just 33 percent of students attending Indiana’s public colleges were doing so at the time. At Indiana University Kokomo, that percentage was 14 percent.

Gov. Mike Pence signed House Enrolled Act 1348 in 2014, as well. It requires students to complete at least 30 credit hours each year in order to renew their financial aid at the same level the following school year. The majority of state aid is distributed through the Frank O’Bannon education grant and 21st Century Scholars program.

Last March, the Commission for Higher Education reported more college students with financial need were on track for on-time graduation at the state’s publicly funded institutions. Statewide, 30-credit-hour course-completion among 21st Century Scholars improved 23.2 percent over the prior year at four-year colleges and 24.2 percent at two-year colleges.

It was the second straight year of double-digit improvement. IU Kokomo was singled out as one of the most improved state schools last year. Thirty-nine percent more 21st Century Scholars enrolled in at least 30 credit hours in 2013-14 than in the previous academic year - a significant achievement.

Each additional year of college costs students $50,000 in tuition, lost wages and related costs, according to the commission. Worse, state financial aid runs out for students after four years, increasing the probability they will drop out.

Students, open registration for the fall semester continues at IU Kokomo through Aug. 21. Sign up for 15 credit hours each semester at college. You’ll be more likely to graduate and save money.

___

(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. July 29, 2016

With revenue proposals on hold, coalition’s study gains importance.

A vast opportunity to influence the Terre Haute community’s future awaits a new coalition on local government efficiency.

The events of the past two weeks in Vigo County have left that door propped wide open for Terre Haute Competes. That group of city, county and civic leaders began forming in April out of concerns about the city’s deficit-plagued general fund and remedies under consideration for that dilemma. In a letter to Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, the leaders urged elected officials to consider ways to reduce spending “before further taxing our citizens.”

On July 21, the coalition announced its name, Terre Haute Competes, the members of its steering committee and its intentions. Its stated goal “is to ensure that citizens are getting the highest level of services at the most competitive price.” The coalition plans in-depth reviews of city and county operations, interviews with public workers and officials and residents and to report those findings to the appropriate unit of government.

Two decisions in the past 13 days leave that independent coalition plenty of room to craft a comprehensive blueprint of local government in the years ahead.

First, a recap of the backstory. In late March, a few weeks before civic leaders wrote the letter to Bennett, the mayor gave his State of the City address. Bennett referred to the city’s general-fund deficit (which has lingered since 2011 and stood at $11,037,395 as of May 31) and the city’s shrunken property-tax revenue, and stated, “We have to have some new revenue.” He mentioned three proposed sources for that revenue - a trash pickup fee, a stormwater fee and a local option income tax for public safety.

The City Council narrowly approved the trash fee in April by a 5-4 vote. The other two revenue possibilities require approval by other public bodies, and those OKs have not happened.

On July 19, the Terre Haute Sanitary District Board voted unanimously to table (or delay until later) a resolution to impose a stormwater fee on property owners, a portion of which would go toward the Payment in Lieu of Taxes fund, which supports the city’s general fund. The City Council - which must have the Sanitary Board’s approval before rendering a final decision on the fee - postponed its discussion on the topic until September.

Then last week, the Vigo County Council president and budget committee chairman told the Tribune-Star that a local option income tax (or LOIT) to fund public safety expenses will not be included in the county’s 2017 budget. Under Vigo County’s taxing structure, LOITs - including those that could provide funds for city expenses - must be approved by the County Council. A new public safety LOIT (of 0.25 percent, or $250 for a taxpayer earning $100,000) could help fund both a new Vigo County Jail and $2.2 million annually for city police and fire personnel costs, according to the mayor’s State of the City address. Based on the County Council leaders’ comments, though, no public safety LOIT will be in place before 2018.

The situation leaves Terre Haute Competes much to consider. To be sure, stormwater fees and LOITs, as well as trash pickup fees, became more common in other Indiana communities after the Legislature capped property taxes eight years ago. Terre Haute avoided those difficult decisions, leading to its deficit. Now, with the stormwater and LOIT possibilities on hold indefinitely, cuts and other cost saving measures are seemingly inevitable.

The government efficiency coalition’s findings will be enlightening.

___

The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. July 29, 2016

Make it your business to stop child abuse, neglect.

About 1,580 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States in 2014, according to childwelfare.gov.

To put it another way: An average of four children died in our country daily that year from abuse or neglect.

A recently released report from the Indiana Department of Child Services brings the problem closer to home. The report, for the state’s 2014 fiscal year, found that 66 Hoosier children died as the result of abuse or neglect.

Here are some more troubling statistics:

- Nearly half of the children who died were age 1 or younger.

- The majority of the abuse deaths were caused by head trauma.

- Substance abuse was a risk factor in about 30 percent of the deaths.

While none of the deaths reported were in Madison County, a total of three came from adjacent counties Grant and Delaware.

And we have had our tragic stories here in the Anderson area. Some were high profile:

- A 12-year-old girl died after, allegedly, being run over by a lawn mower in November 2015. The girl’s legal guardian, Denell Roberts, faces a murder charge. A jury trial is scheduled to start Tuesday.

- After authorities found a 15-year-old Anderson girl locked in a filthy room and barely alive, Anderson’s Steve and Joetta Sells - the girl’s grandparents and caretakers - were each sentenced to 24 years in prison.

- In April, Anderson’s Kim Robinson and Stephen Auker were sentenced to 20 years in prison each for neglect of their 29-month-old twin daughters. Authorities said the girls, because of neglect, were two years behind in physical and cognitive development.

While these cases are disturbing, in part, because of the apparent intentionality of the neglect or abuse over the course of time, other acts of fatal neglect can come from inattention or a single act of carelessness. Every summer, heart-wrenching stories surface of kids perishing in the heat after being left in cars.

More commonly, children don’t have the proper supervision around water. The majority of the 54 cases of Indiana children dying from neglect in 2014 were caused by drowning.

It’s easy to feel powerless when confronted with these anecdotes and statistics. But there truly is something you can do about it.

First, take good care of your own children, giving them the attention, shelter, food, education, health care and other necessities they need to flourish.

Next, report suspected neglect or abuse to the Indiana Department of Child Services or to the local police.

The easiest path sometimes is to turn away, reasoning that it’s none of your business. But think of it this way: By making it your business, you could save a child’s life.

___

The (Munster) Times, July 29, 2016

Ruling should send message to self-serving pols.

When the state passes laws to protect taxpayers from conflicts of interest among our public officials, we’re going to kick, scream and drag our feet to resist.

That’s the message five Region elected officials sent in filing and continuing to push forth a selfish, frivolous lawsuit to defy state law for their own interests.

Thankfully, a Lake County judge finally put an end to the madness Wednesday, but the five elected officials dragged it out far too long.

All five of the elected officials - Hammond Councilmen Michael Opinker and Scott Rakos, Hobart Councilman Matthew Claussen, New Chicago Councilwoman Sue Pelfrey and East Chicago Councilman Juda Parks - are, or at one time were, double-dipping on the taxpayer dime.

They were collecting paychecks for their elected jobs plus being paid for department jobs within the municipalities they were elected to represent. The also were in a position to supervise their own supervisors.

This was a clear conflict of interest that a 2012 Indiana law sought to end.

Finally on Wednesday, four years later, Lake Superior Court Judge William E. Davis issued a final order against the conflicted council members who sought to overturn the law.

A federal judge came to the same conclusion last year - that the law should be upheld. It should have ended there, but the case unfortunately was allowed to proceed in state court.

The refrain of Region public officials trying to shout down and outlast good government reform has become all too common - especially in Lake County.

We’ve seen it before - and continue to see it - with the resistance of our municipal, county and court offices to consolidate or share services, despite recommendations from state commissions.

We see it in a culture of cronyism in which partisan political allies appear far more interested in protecting each other than the taxpayers they represent.

We can only hope Judge Davis’ ruling this week sounds a death knell for the This was a clear conflict of interest that a 2012 Indiana law sought to end.

Finally on Wednesday, four years later, Lake Superior Court Judge William E. Davis issued a final order against the conflicted council members who sought to overturn the law.

A federal judge came to the same conclusion last year - that the law should be upheld. It should have ended there, but the case unfortunately was allowed to proceed in state court.

The refrain of Region public officials trying to shout down and outlast good government reform has become all too common - especially in Lake County.

We’ve seen it before - and continue to see it - with the resistance of our municipal, county and court offices to consolidate or share services, despite recommendations from state commissions.

We see it in a culture of cronyism in which partisan political allies appear far more interested in protecting each other than the taxpayers they represent.

We can only hope Judge Davis’ ruling this week sounds a death knell for the shortsighted selfishness that permeates our political landscape.

Opinker, by most accounts a respected and accomplished councilman and assistant fire chief, told The Times Wednesday, “It’s a sad day for my 5th District.”

He spoke those words as he confirmed he was relinquishing his Hammond City Council seat and continuing his job at the fire department in the wake of Davis’ ruling.

We couldn’t disagree more with Opinker. Taxpayers deserve a political system free from even the slightest hint of conflict. Elected officials, already compensated for their legislative or executive roles, shouldn’t also hold sway over public departments and pay scales in which they also hold jobs.

Common sense laws and policies must continue to win over self-serving practices. We elect officials to protect the public’s interest, not their own.

___

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide