- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The (Munster) Times. August 11, 2017

Connecting bike trails improves life here

Region transportation planners constantly look for ways to tout, enhance and expand our already rich network of biking and hiking trails.

It’s an often difficult prospect, given that much expansion would require obtaining right of way to privately held property.

So Hobart and the Indiana Department of Transportation deserve praise for working together to include dedicated bike lanes as part of a resurfacing project on Indiana 51 from U.S. 30 to U.S. 20.

Anyone who hasn’t used our Region’s many bike trails, running dozens of miles in length and in some cases spanning multiple counties, is missing out.

Region trails - including the Erie-Lackawanna, which connects Crown Point and Hammond with all points in between, and the Prairie Duneland Trail, which spans Hobart, Portage and Chesterton - are things of recreational beauty.

They offer seamless passages through serene nature and community downtowns.

However, connectivity among the trails and city or county roads isn’t always perfect.

Dedicated lanes for safer biking on public roads is one answer, and Hobart and state transportation planners have struck such a deal.

INDOT is adding dedicated bike lanes to the Indiana 51 resurfacing effort.

Hobart has agreed to maintain the bike lanes through municipal resources.

This type of project adds luster to an already shining Region asset without having to obtain new rights of way.

Other communities should review the effort and consider incorporating dedicated bike lanes where they make sense on municipal streets.

It’s a quality of life issue worth a serious look.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. August 10, 2017

It’s in the bag

One afternoon in March 2014, someone called the Ranson, West Virginia, police to report seeing a man loading a handgun and putting it into his pocket as he got In 2016, an anti-home rule law designed to stop Bloomington from instituting a rule against disposable plastic bags in groceries and other stores was passed by the Indiana legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Pence.

This was a disappointment to environmentalists who had hoped Bloomington’s effort to ban the bags would succeed and spread to other Indiana locations. Limiting the use of disposables can save energy and resources, reduce pollution, and protect animals - particularly marine life. And unlike some environmental protection strategies, there seems to be no downside in terms of economic costs.

While Indiana lawmakers were indulging in one of their “let’s protect local communities from themselves” jags, Chicago was going in the opposite direction. In February, the city began to charge retail customers who asked for paper or plastic a 7-cents-per-bag tax. Two cents went to the retailer; five cents went to the city.

This week, the Chicago Tribune reported the surcharge is beginning to have an effect on city residents, many of whom seem to have quickly adopted the habit of taking a reusable bag when they go shopping.

Researchers found a little fewer than half the customers at large grocery stores asked for disposable bags during the first month after the tax was instituted - a third fewer than in the month before the change. The average use was one bag per customer, down from a pre-tax rate of 2.3 bags per customer.

The new tax is raising less money than anticipated. But in this case, less is more, in terms of environmental impact. The city had projected public revenue from the charges on disposable bags would reach $9.2 million this year. But by July 25, the tax had only raised $3 million.

Any official local efforts to reduce plastic-bag use are impossible in Indiana as long as the legislature’s ban remains in place. Even if those state restrictions were lifted, another tax, no matter how environmentally beneficial, would be a tough sell in Fort Wayne.

But change for the better doesn’t have to be driven by government action. A recent survey showed most Hoosiers are concerned about the environment and want to address pollution, climate change and protection of wildlife. Could citizens, organizations and businesses here do more to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags?

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South Bend Tribune. August 9, 2017

Getting quality teachers takes more than pay

When a report ranks Indiana as one of the country’s worst five states for recruiting and keeping teachers, you begin to understand why school districts locally and statewide struggle to fill teaching positions.

Until recently, South Bend schools had about 100 teaching positions unfilled. Recent hires dropped that number to about 25, but the district is still struggling to find teachers.

The issue is so concerning that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick has hired someone to work with school districts to attract and retain good licensed teachers.

It’s a problem that touches almost every district to varying degrees.

It’s not unusual for districts to have open teaching positions as the school year nears. In some cases, officials can fill teaching positions by employing people with “emergency permits” from the state. They could be college grads who have yet to pass the teaching certification test or licensed teachers who receive an emergency permit to teach a different subject.

The state has recognized the critical need for teachers and is taking steps to address the issue.

McCormick created a new position - chief of talent - and hired Scott Syverson to try and attract teachers statewide.

The General Assembly has stepped up, too, creating the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship last year. Beginning this fall, up to 200 graduating high school students will be awarded scholarships of up to $30,000 over four years to attend accredited colleges and universities in Indiana, according to an IndyStar report. Scholarship recipients must commit to teaching for at least five years in Hoosier public or private classrooms.

The teacher shortage is real and it’s impacting local school districts. More money certainly helps to attract young teachers starting out in the profession, but that’s not the only incentive.

South Bend Superintendent Kenneth Spell has said he wants teachers who have gone through the South Bend school system and have a stake in seeing students succeed. More training and autonomy in the classroom have been cited as other ways to boost retention and recruitment.

There are lots of challenges facing those who want to be teachers. The state and local school corporations must be persistent and creative if they’re to meet their goal of growing the ranks of quality teachers.

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Kokomo Tribune. August 9, 2017

Needle programs need funding

This week saw a depressing turn in the fight against the opioid epidemic wreaking havoc on our state as Madison County ended their needle exchange program.

“The Madison County Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to effectively end the needle exchange program by adopting an ordinance that prohibits funding for an employee to oversee the operation of the program,” reported The Herald Bulletin’s Ken de la Bastide. “The ordinance prohibits the use of county funds or donations and gifts to purchase the needles and the necessary supplies. . The program was started in 2015 after the Madison County commissioners declared a public health emergency over concerns about the potential spread of hepatitis C and HIV. The council was being asked to approve a $15,000 appropriation which is used by the Madison County Health Department for supplies for the needle exchange program, other than the purchase of syringes. The money is being donated.”

This move will not stop intravenous drug users from shooting up. What it will do is cause them to turn to dirty needles to get their fix in, further exacerbating the already alarming trend of hepatitis C and HIV infections.

We don’t have a needle exchange program in Howard County yet. If the relevant agencies - including the Howard County Health Department and the Howard County Commissioners - decide there should be one, it should be fully funded for as long as it’s needed. If Madison County’s current predicament can serve as any kind of lesson, it might be that programs are fine, provided they are fully funded.

We here in Howard County have recognized that the opioid issue is not an entirely law enforcement program. Social help is needed. Mental health help is needed. Addiction help is needed. This isn’t a simple problem, and it won’t be solved with a simple solution. It will take hard work on multiple fronts, and we’ll need all the necessary tools on the table.

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