- Associated Press
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Indianapolis Star. Nov. 6, 2015.

Time for Indiana to embrace #RightsForAll.


Chris Douglas’ public stand for gay rights in Indiana came at high personal cost - he lost his job.

Much has changed since that day in the 1990s when Douglas was fired after coming out as a gay man. Society’s attitudes toward LGBT citizens have shifted significantly overall. Many companies have adopted non-discrimination policies. And same-sex marriage is now legally recognized across the nation.

Much has changed. Yet some things remain the same.

A gay man can still be fired in Indiana simply for being gay. A lesbian can be denied housing simply for being a lesbian. A transgender person can be refused service in a restaurant or another business simply for being a transgender person.

And, in most of Indiana, those individuals still have no legal recourse to fight back against such discrimination. Just as Douglas, now a financial planner in Indianapolis, did not 20 years ago.

In January, Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly will have a prime opportunity to right that wrong. Lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal to expand the state civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected legal classes.

It’s essential that they pass such a law, and that the protections extend to employment, housing and public accommodation.

Essential because it’s the right thing to do.

Essential also because Indiana’s reputation as a place that welcomes people from all walks of life was badly bruised during the brutal fight last spring over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Indianapolis’ economy, in particular - built on hosting major conventions and sports events, and on attracting top talent from around the globe to employers such as Eli Lilly - was put at high risk of a sudden meltdown because of the state, national and even international reaction to RFRA.

In response, Pence and lawmakers reached agreement on a two-pronged “fix.” The first rolled back RFRA’s block on local laws that extend protections against discrimination for LGBT residents, including in Indy.

The second was a promise to allow for consideration of expanding the civil rights law during the 2016 legislative session.

In the months since the RFRA explosion, several local governments - including Carmel, Columbus, Muncie, Terre Haute and Zionsville - have passed laws that extend protections for LGBT citizens. Those are welcome steps, and they indicate that the push to expand civil rights has gained traction in much of the state.

Still, legal safeguards against discrimination don’t exist in most of Indiana, and protections vary in strength among those cities that have adopted nondiscrimination laws. The same dangers that RFRA exposed continue to threaten thousands of Hoosiers and their families.

The legislative debate over civil rights expansion is expected to center on whether to include public accommodation - the principle that businesses open to the public must serve all members of the public without prejudice. Opponents have raised fears that if lawmakers act to stop businesses from discriminating against LGBT citizens, then religious liberty will be trampled.

Those fears are overblown, and Hoosiers need look no farther than Indianapolis to understand why.

Indy has had a strong human rights ordinance in place for 10 years. The law covers public accommodation as well as housing and employment. It also protects religious liberty concerns by excluding houses of worship, religious schools and nonprofits.

Despite objections expressed by opponents at the time, similar to objections raised by opponents of broader civil rights today, Indianapolis’ law has been enforced for a decade without curbing religious liberty. There’s no reason to fear a different outcome on the state level.

On the day the RFRA fix was introduced last spring, in an extraordinary press conference, key business and academic leaders gathered to proclaim that their organizations would push for expansion of the law. They were joined by House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate leader David Long.

Chris Douglas stood among the powerbrokers on the House floor. He was even asked to speak in favor of the fix.

Once shunned in his home state, Douglas that day was sought after for his approval by many of Indiana’s most influential leaders.

Much has indeed changed.

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The South Bend Tribune. Nov. 4, 2015.

Make evaluations consistent, effective.

When the Indiana General Assembly passed a law mandating every school district in the state conduct annual reviews for all teachers and administrators, it couldn’t be anticipated what would follow.

And what followed was a mess. Teacher ratings varied wildly from corporation to corporation. Most teachers were rated “highly effective” or “effective” while only a very small percentage of teachers were rated as needing improvement.

School corporations throughout the state could decide to follow the Indiana Department of Education’s RISE evaluation system or come up with their own evaluation as long as it met the standards outlined by the state. Some school corporations opted to have their own teacher evaluation system, such as Mishawaka.

However, in an article published Oct. 26, Tribune staff writer Kim Kilbride reported that the Indiana Department of Education said the evaluation of some School City of Mishwaka teachers doesn’t adequately document how well there students are learning.

Creating a complex teacher evaluation system is not easy. There are lots of factors that must be considered. For example, the evaluations of teachers of third through eighth grade rely on the ISTEP exams. But there are other subject areas being measured not covered by ISTEP and that becomes more complicated.

Meawhile, there are some unintended consequences resulting from the state’s system for evaluating educators, including forcing already busy school administrators to spend a lot of time - three classroom observations each school year - to evaluate their highest-performing teachers. Should administrators be the ones evaluating teachers in the first place, given the many daily tasks they must perform, including addressing disciplinary issues? Shouldn’t the evaluations focus more on those teachers who need attention? Judging by the number of teachers rated as “needing improvement,” that would be a very small number. But is that number accurate? And are the teachers who really need help getting the assistance under the current system?

Highly skilled and motivated teachers should be rewarded for their efforts, but those teachers who need help in making sure their students learn what is required at their grade level should get the assistance. And the evaluation process should be simplified and consistent.

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The Bloomington Herald Times. Nov. 5, 2015.

Major decisions about Trades District should wait until Hamilton takes office.

Two proposals for breathing new and creative life into six acres in the middle of the city came before the Bloomington Redevelopment Commission Monday, showing a strong competition is brewing for how that prime property could be used.

We endorsed the proposal from Indianapolis development firm Flaherty & Collins when it was first unveiled in early September. The city had signed a letter of intent with the company to develop the property, now owned by the city’s Redevelopment Commission, which must sign off on the proposal. It had enthusiastic support from Mayor Mark Kruzan and his team. They expressed strong confidence in the partnership the Indy company has with local technology entrepreneurs Brad Wisler and Mike Trotzke.

But since then, a second proposal has come forth, this one from local developers Eric Stolberg, Elliott Lewis and David Ferguson. It may be better than the Flaherty & Collins proposal. It may not be. A lot of details must be studied and considered before a conclusion can be drawn.

Then Tuesday, the city elected a new mayor, John Hamilton. He’s not enthusiastic about the Flaherty & Collins proposal and said during the campaign he’s concerned it places too much emphasis on a large market-rate housing development.

Finally, good questions have been raised about the speed of the competitive process of finding a developer for this property, being referred to as the Trades District, and whether Kruzan and others embraced the first development plan too quickly. Some have suggested Flaherty & Collins have an unfair advantage in what should be a transparent, unbiased process that must have only one goal: the widest and broadest benefit for the city.

We can relate to Kruzan’s desire to move that key community project forward in his last months in office. He deserves credit for purchasing the 12 acres of prime downtown real estate from Indiana University when it became available, and envisioning a city-centered area where technology-based businesses could start-up, grow and thrive alongside living spaces and other amenities not geared toward the college crowd. He deserves credit for his oft-stated goal of waiting for the best deal the city can get. He deserves praise for getting the process to this point, with two developers vying for developing half the available acreage into the beginning of a technology park.

But it’s time for city officials to slow down on the Trades District proposals until Hamilton takes office. He’s expressed support for the technology park concept, despite his voiced concerns about some specifics of the Flaherty & Collins proposal. The voters have expressed confidence in him, and he and whatever team he assembles should be involved as this high-impact project moves forward.

Hamilton will serve in the mayor’s office for the next four years as this development moves forward. It would be counterproductive for the city under Kruzan to sign off on a proposal the new mayor has already criticized.

The city’s in a good position with two development groups competing for the right to develop the land and reuse historic structures on the property. The necessary time must be taken to carefully vet each of the proposals.

The Trades District development is too important to rush. Key votes on the decision can, and should, wait until 2016.

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The Munster Times. Nov. 6, 2015

Let dust settle on education policy first.

Education policy has been in turmoil in Indiana in recent years, with state standards changing, the resultant standardized tests changing, frequent political battles and more. It’s time to let the dust from all this renovation settle a bit to get a more clear view of the education scene.

Gov. Mike Pence had been adamant about pushing forward with school and teacher evaluations, but he did an about-face last week, just before the State Board of Education released new pass-fail scores for the new ISTEP test. Pence was right to urge that school accountability be put on hold, despite his earlier position.

“We grade our children every week, and we can grade our schools every year, but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam,” Pence said in a letter to the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

Pence said he asked the GOP leadership at the Indiana General Assembly to draft legislation ensuring “test scores will not negatively impact teacher evaluations or performance bonuses” and guaranteeing the A-F school rating system “fairly reflects the efforts of our students and teachers during this transition year.”

Last week, the State Board of Education set pass-fail standards that drop the average passing rate for grades 3 to 8 to 64.7 percent for reading and 59.2 percent for math.

During the 2013-14 school year, the success rates for elementary students were 80.8 percent for English and 83.6 percent for math.

The new academic standards are, by a 2014 state law sought by Pence, the highest in the country and no longer tied to any other state’s standards. The result is a more difficult test. Comparing results to previous years, when the test was vastly different, is statistically invalid.

Education policy changes have come fast and furious in recent years. First we need to stabilize the standardized testing. Once we get reliable results, then the tests should again be a factor in school accountability, but not yet.

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