Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Blame for teacher shortage rests at legislative level

Indiana put itself on a path toward its current teacher shortages. The COVID-19 pandemic can be blamed for compounding the problem.

An annual survey by Indiana State University’s Bayh College of Education showed that 96.5% of Indiana school districts that responded report teacher shortages in the current 2021-2022 school year. More than two-thirds of districts responded — 199 out of Indiana’s 290 school corporations.

That marks the highest percentage of shortages since the Bayh College began the yearly survey in 2015.

The pandemic put every school and its district under unprecedented pressure. As every Hoosier knows, schools had to toggle between teaching students in person and online, upending teachers’ normal patterns of delivering lessons, grading and coaching kids. The wearing of face masks — the most effective tool at the time to protect kids and adults inside those buildings — turned into a surreal, political food fight during the previous 2020-21 school year. The state gave Indiana teachers no special consideration in the distribution of vaccines, once those medicines earned federal emergency approval.

That scenario alone provided enough reasons for teachers and prospective teachers to do something else.

“This year and last year have brought more challenges than many previous (years),” said Terry McDaniel, the ISU professor of educational leadership who oversees the survey. “As a result, we are seeing educators being burned out, scared, disappointed and no longer enjoying the profession. We are also seeing fewer people entering the profession.”

The shortest supply of teachers comes in the special-education and math disciplines, but shortages also exist for science, elementary education, foreign languages and English.

As universally disruptive as COVID-19 has been, Indiana’s teacher shortage already was a problem before the pandemic. One primary cause was salaries, especially those for starting teachers. With the Indiana General Assembly resisting calls for legislation to raise teacher pay, Gov. Eric Holcomb assembled his Next Level Teacher Compensation Commission. Indiana ranked ninth in the Midwest and 38th nationally in average teacher pay, according to the commission. Even more troubling was a Rockefeller Institute report showing that Indiana ranked last in America in the increase in average teacher pay from 2002 to 2019.

Holcomb’s commission recommended the state allot $600 million annually to boost teacher pay to an average of $60,000 overall and a minimum starting salary of $40,000.

The ruling Republican leadership in the Indiana General Assembly did not leap toward meeting that goal during its session last winter and spring. Legislators did, though, eventually approve a state budget providing the $600 million yearly allotment for teacher pay recommended by the governor’s commission. That happened after an infusion of $3 billion in COVID-19 relief from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan.

The lawmakers’ hesitant approach stems from an ideological mindset that has pervaded for a dozen years, perpetually demeaning the performance of public-school teachers and public schools. That attitude has taken a toll.

Last month, the Legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Education mulled ways to deregulate Indiana’s education policies to alleviate the teacher shortage. They considered allowing local districts to license teachers, rather than the state, according to a report by Chalkbeat Indiana. Such a switch could cause problems for teachers moving from one district to another, where they are not licensed.

Legislators asked John O’Neal, an Indiana State Teachers Association policy researcher and lobbyist, whether the existing licensing process, through one state entity, delayed hiring. That factor was slight, compared to larger causes of teacher shortages, O’Neal answered.

“There are other reasons causing a shortage, like pay and benefits and other things like working conditions ... and professional respect that are probably more of a factor influencing those teachers’ job decisions than how fast the (licensing) process is,” O’Neal said, as quoted by Chalkbeat Indiana.

Indeed, those are the causes of Indiana’s teacher shortages. COVID-19 simply amplified them.

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Kokomo Tribune. Oct. 7, 2021.

Editorial: It’s time for Peru council to focus on city

Impeachment, bickering, accusations. We’ve all grown familiar with those words, thanks to the current national political scene.

But those words were used recently not to describe national leaders but to characterize the Peru City Council.

Joe Molyneux, who serves on both the Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals, didn’t mince words when describing the mayhem that has befallen the council.

“Each and every one of you, when you made campaign speeches and all, said you were for the betterment of the city,” he said. “I have not seen that in 22 months.”

Molyneux told council members they should be more respectful and advised members who have problems with others in the city to work out their issues as best they can.

One thing Peru officials are doing right is posting meetings on their YouTube channel.

There were 200 subscribers as of Thursday afternoon to the City of Peru IN — Council Meetings channel. Some meetings have been viewed only eight times (Peru Board of Works 9-21-21). Others have anywhere from 24 to 400 views. One — the Peru City Council 9-13-21 — has been viewed over 1,200 times.

During many of these meetings, the gallery doesn’t appear to be packed with residents concerned about what their leaders are doing to improve the city.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Peru in 2019 was 11,023. In the video titled Peru Board of Works 9-7-21, there are only seven people in the gallery.

Do the more than 11,000 people know about the juvenile behavior on display at these meetings?

Councilwoman Patricia Russell stated at Monday’s City Council meeting that she looked into impeaching council President Betsy Edwards-Wolfe.

So why didn’t she go forward with the impeachment? Because she spoke with City Attorney Dustin Kern, who told her to think through the action carefully.

Russell also heard from Jason Gornto, who owns and operates Custom Training Solutions, which offers classes and training on leadership and team collaboration.

Gornto addressed the council in August, calling them ineffective because of infighting, bickering and arguing. He offered his training to help solve the issues among members.

“It’s kind of a mess,” Gornto told the council. “There’s so much fighting. There’s so much inefficiency …”

The infantile behavior by members is doing nothing for the city — and residents are suffering for it.

Molyneux told the council Monday, “If we’re not all working together on it, we’re not going to get any further forward. We cannot keep going like this.”

Peru residents should show up at meetings and demand more from their elected officials. If Peru is to succeed and move forward, it will take the whole village.

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The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. Oct. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Getting life without parole can be a fitting sentence

Ryan Ramirez’s life sentence without parole, recently affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court, is supported by the horrific fact that he tortured a toddler resulting in the child’s death.

Paisley Hudson was only 23 months old when she died from multiple blunt force injuries at Ramirez’s hands.

Paisley’s death on July 28, 2018, followed weeks of abuse suffered also by her brother Riley, a protective 3-year-old who would stand in front of Paisley if it looked like she was going to be punished.

The siblings’ physical punishment by Ramirez and the mental anguish inflicted by their mother and Ramirez’s girlfriend, Kayla Hudson, did not end even as Paisley laid unmoving in her Pack ‘n Play. The four were living in an Anderson motel.

Late on the night of July 27, Ramirez carried Paisley, who appeared to be sleeping, to their room. Riley was awake but had bruises and what doctors described as “raccoon eyes,” where bruising had gone into his eye sockets.

Hudson went out to buy cream for the bruises.

Hudson then went out for cigarettes and fast food without checking on Paisley. By 6 a.m., when Hudson looked in on the girl, Paisley was cold and stiff. In part, there had been such impact to the front of her abdomen that her liver was torn in two places; she also had a skull fracture.

Hudson pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent resulting in death and neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury. She received a 40-year prison sentence. She testified she pleaded guilty because the state was going to charge her with murder.

Thankfully, the state pursued harsher charges against Ramirez, who was sentenced in Madison Circuit Court 4 to life without parole and a consecutive sentence of 14 years for neglect causing serious injury in connection with Riley’s abuse.

In its recommendation of life without parole, the jury found two statutory aggravating factors: a child was murdered, and torture was involved. In part, Ramirez’s appeal challenged that finding. But there was, tragically, evidence to aid the prosecution.

“Because the jury could, from the evidence of P.H.’s injuries, reasonably infer that Ramirez intentionally inflicted ’an appreciable period of pain or punishment’ to indulge a sadistic impulse, the torture aggravator was supported by sufficient evidence,” wrote Chief Justice Loretta Rush in a 28-page decision.

This end result is perhaps the surest way for the state to penalize Ramirez. A harsher sentence might open the way for finding technical errors to help Ramirez’s case. But there were no technicalities to derail the prosecution’s case.

Overriding all of this, of course, is how the murder and abuse will affect young Riley, the 3-year-old who tried to protect his sister.

Maybe in some lane where we can find justice for Paisley, Riley and his future guardians will understand that the best approach to prosecution and the best outcome was intended to keep a bad, sadistic man forever in prison. Through that, maybe Riley will find strength in knowing that adults really cared about Paisley and still care about him.

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