The Need for More Angus Kings

Yesterday morning I watched Meet the Press like I have most Sunday mornings, and I had the pleasure of hearing from newly elected Senator Angus King (I-ME) talk about some of the problems facing Washington. He explained the debt ceiling in a way that I found to be interesting, and a perspective I had not heard in the previous debates.

Basically, King argued that the debt ceiling not be held ransom in a couple of months in hopes that it will trigger Democrats to accept spending cuts because the debt ceiling is tied to spending that has already been incurred. King compared that practice to a family who made a lot of purchases on a credit card but refused to pay off the credit card balance at the end of the month. You have to pay off the balance to have a good credit rating, and, if you wish you reign in your spending in the future, you don’t purchase items on credit the next time.

The sins of the 112th Congress, and many others before it have been well documented as they turned a blind eye to a ballooning deficit, and for the past few months, our elected representatives have continued to kick the can down the road rather than have the vital conversations that need to happen. Just last week the House and Senate passed a disastrous last-minute bill which raises taxes on almost every American, under the guise it was good for the middle class, and included hardly any spending cuts.

Most intelligent people agree any deal to bring down the deficit has to have both increased revenues and decreased spending. Hopefully, the toying with tax rates is over, and through a simplification of the tax code and a decrease in the number of deductions, more revenue can be found.

But, as I have said before, revenues alone are not the answer. We have to find a way to cut spending if we are going to get out of this mess, but the Democrats and Republicans have stood in the way of cuts or refused to get specific about where the cuts should come from.

There are a number of interesting simulations on the Internet which can help you toy around with a list of proposals that would help bring down the deficit. Frankly, I think the majority of Americans are on board with a big deal, and really wish that the politicians could get out of their way so we can solve the problem.

http://crfb.org/stabilizethedebt/

This is one of the better simulators, but I am sure there are others. Feel free to pay along and see how much work needs to be done to reign in the debt.

Hopefully, through the work of sensible politicians like Angus King we can agree to a big deal that will actually fix the problem. Don’t count me among the people who think that is particularly likely.


Learn To Help Yourself

Frustrating. Embarrassing. Stupid. Entirely avoidable. Those are a few words to describe the mess over the fiscal cliff and Congress’ handling of our outstanding deficit over the past few years.

We have commissioned groups to look at the problems, entrusted our leaders to come up with a solution, kicked the can down the road, created a supercommittee, and finally, created what is now known as the “fiscal cliff,” a set of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that would go in affect in the next few days, in hopes of encouraging action. That didn’t work either as we are yet again playing partisan brinksmanship, threatening America’s credit rating (AGAIN), and possibly stopping what appeared to be an economy that was coming back to life.

Almost anyone with a brain, and who isn’t tied down to worrying about facing challengers financed by the Club for Growth when they run for reelection, agrees that in order to fix this mess that this Congress, and many past Congresses created is to have a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. There is simply too big of a mess to count on one or the other. However, politicians of both parties (not simply the Tea Party Republicans) have been unable to make enough concessions to make the other side happy.

It was my hope after Election Day that our leaders in Washington could come together an avoid this crisis from going down to the last minute (ever the optimist) and I guess my hopes were stupid. The men and women representing us in Washington seem to only worry about partisan talking points rather than meaningful action to get stuff done. Unfortunately, that may mean a lot of changes to stuff we are pretty comfortable with, but the sacrifice will be born by all, unless we continue kicking the can down the road to be left on the next generation.

I have questioned my identity as a “Republican” for some time now because the beliefs I have–that of a small government that largely stays out of peoples’ lives, seems to be an ideology that has fallen out of favor with contemporary Republicanism. So, while the current Republican Party flirts dangerously with a cliff of political obsoletism, I am in the “middle” hoping that leaders of both parties will have the courage to say that enough is enough to work together for a common solution. Yeah, right.

I believe spending cuts are necessary, as necessary as increased revenue. But, the Democrats want to only raise taxes and the Republicans only want to cut spending. I am less a fan of increased revenue because I think that increased revenues are exactly the problem–the federal government doesn’t need more money, it needs to spend the money it has more wisely. If you were trying to cure an alcoholic of his alcoholism, you wouldn’t buy him half a bottle of booze in hopes of curing his disease, would you? Probably not.

However, you can be sure that we do need some taxes to fund some aspects of public life. In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels and education chief Tony Bennett pushed through sweeping education reform, including one of the nation’s largest school voucher program. In addition to these changes, Indiana voted for a statewide property tax cap, that has lowered property taxes, which in turn lower the amount of money counties, cities, towns, and schools have at their disposal.

I was at a public meeting in Greencastle a couple weeks ago where people were discussing the state of our local schools (not good) and it was brought up that we need to hire more experienced teachers. I stood up at the meeting and told them why schools aren’t hiring experienced teachers (it costs money) and that they probably voted for the constitutional amendment that created that problem in the first place.

If we are going to have any hopes of making things better, we have to learn to help ourselves. People should pay attention to what is going on in their communities by reading the newspaper and attending public meetings. They should call their representatives in Congress, and encourage them to take meaningful action at solving our fiscal problems–once we have our fiscal house in order, a veritable economic boom would likely follow, and happy days would be here again.

Let all the things that have happened since 2008 be a reminder of the dangers of falling asleep at the well and swear that we will never let it happen again.


Things That Make You Go “Hmm…”

I have spent a lot of time thinking about civil liberties over the past few weeks following the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As soon as the news broke, the debate over gun control began anew, and persons of every political persuasion promoted their views on the subject.

The national media and Democratic members of Congress started talking about the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, and many consumers went to the local gun shop to stock up on guns and high-capacity clips.

The Second Amendment to our Constitution is one of the most interesting in the Bill of Rights. Shortly after the Constitution was passed, and the federal government was given a list of the powers it had, members of Congress also passed the Bill of Rights, which restricted the power of the federal government. Our Founding Fathers were weary of an overly powerful government, and in the protection of their personal property so they designed a government that, although more powerful than the one created by the Articles of Confederation, still had checks on its power.

Among these checks are provisions that protect the freedom of speech, the press, the right to assemble, a speedy trial, against cruel and unusual punishment, etc. But, the Second Amendment alone is written with the reason it exists, the text reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The Founders did not envision a standing army to defend the United States, so it was important that individual citizens kept arms in their homes to be called upon in defense of the country, should such defense be necessary.

Many would argue that such a caveat is reason to dismiss the Second Amendment, due to its antiquity. But, in 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected this argument, in the decision District of Columbia v. Heller. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court held that the right of an individual to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, regardless of connection to military service.

And so, we turn again, to the question of whether or not we should adopt stricter gun control laws in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, CT. Last Friday, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association took the airwaves in defense of the Second Amendment and was widely ridiculed by the press. LaPierre argued against tighter gun laws and for placing armed guards in our nation’s schools. Debate the merits of Mr. LaPierre’s position as you will.

The point of all this rambling is this: I believe that the Federal Government has a lot of power to regulate a lot of things, and many of those powers have been granted because the times we live in are different than they were in the late 1700s. Hell, things are different than they were in 2008. But, I think there are some times when the government gets too big, reaches too far, and should appropriately be brought under control using the Bill of Rights. I do not purport to tell you how you should think about gun control, gay marriage, abortion, health care, or any other controversial topic of the day. But I do ask that you do so in a consistent manner. If you think that the government should stay out of people’s lives, except when such action may harm another, then do so in a consistent fashion. If you think that the government should have more regulatory power, don’t complain when the government looks over things that you might prefer kept from the public eye.

I believe the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom for individuals, and so I do not support more gun control laws, and I am in favor of gay marriage. I was also not surprised when, in the summer of 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act because of Congress’ ability to tax. I am less sure how I feel about abortion because I don’t want the federal government interfering in people’s personal lives, but I do think the government has a duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves, i.e. unborn children. I am against the death penalty because the people are protected from cruel and unusual punishment, and I believe that all life is sacred, regardless of the choices of an individual.

I don’t know if this makes me a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a liberal. It might even make me a Libertarian. But it does make me an American, and I thank God I have the privilege of living in a country where I can make my opinions public, and give you all the chance to agree, disagree, or dismiss the whole lot.


Hood Rat Diamond

Hey friends, thank you for taking the time to follow my blog. I wanted to let you know about an exciting project that I am working on…

About a month back I was talking with some friends and we decided to start a sports blog, similar to the work done over at Grantland that would provide our take on some of the sports stories of the day. Yesterday, we finally started the blog and it is already filled with good columns and cool pictures.

I am honored to work alongside a talented group of individuals and am sure that this blog will become a very enjoyable read.

Be sure to follow us at www.hoodratdiamond.wordpress.com

Thanks!


What I Think I Know

As my loyal readers know, I have maintained radio silence over the past couple of days. I did that, in part, because I was absolutely exhausted from the flurry of activity over the last couple of weeks. I heard from many GCSC staff and people in the community that offered encouragement, praise, and their own stories of the struggles they have faced. Your support has been overwhelming and I thank you for it.

I also took a break because I wasn’t really sure what to say. I think that last Thursday’s community conversation with Dr. Richmond, Mike White, and Mike Dean was a good start. A lot of questions were answered, and people probably left knowing more than what they did coming in.

But, I know that we are not finished. There are far too many people out there who are struggling in their jobs, knowing that they have to report back to work in August and face a tumultuous year all over again.

To quote Vice President Biden, staff morale is a “big f&@#ing deal” and needs to be addressed. Dr. Richmond held an open door meeting last week and reported that only three staff members showed up. She took this as a sign that there was not a problem. Others pointed out that it is the sign of a very big problem.

Whether she means to or not, I think that it is clear, people have a hard time going to talk with Dr. Richmond with their concerns. Whether those concerns are valid or not, I don’t definitively know. But they seem to be concerns that keep people quiet.

So, what are we do to? Well, I think it’s again time to speak out. I cannot carry the frustrations of every GCSC employee, because they can dismiss me the same as they have many other employees. If you are upset with your boss, you can:

1. Look for another job.

2. Keep quiet.

3. Speak out and accept the consequences.

I can’t tell you what to do. But, if you think that enough people are frustrated, get them together. They may be able to push around and ignore one teacher, but they can’t ignore 30 teachers.

We also need to continue, as taxpayers and concerned citizens, to push for more transparency of GCSC operations. Ask that the School Board be given corporation email addresses, post the meetings on YouTube, keep meeting minutes up to date, etc. People also need to continue to go to School Board meetings and ask questions and push for increased transparency. End the meeting asking what you can do to help.

Reminder, the School Board will meet on Monday, July 23rd at 7:30pm.

Write an email to your child’s teacher. Thank them for their hard work and patience. Let them know you are fighting for them.

Write a letter to State Representative Jim Baird, State Senator Richard Bray, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, or Governor Mitch Daniels.

It’s an election year–look into the education plans for the candidates for governor (Mike Pence (R) and John Gregg (D)) as well as State Superintendent of Public Instruction (Tony Bennett (R) and Glenda Ritz (D))

Pence http://www.mikepence.com/

Gregg http://www.greggforgovernor.com/

Bennett http://www.doe.in.gov/idoe/superintendent (A government site, not a campaign site. I couldn’t find one. If you do, forward it to me.)

Ritz http://www.ritz4ed.com/

This is going to be an ongoing effort. I don’t have all the answers, and I will continue to fight. If you have any ideas, shoot me an email at tjwade12@gmail.com

This may be the last blog I write about Greencastle Schools for a while. If you have been following this blog looking for information you won’t find in the Banner Graphic, I thank you. I hope that my efforts did not disappoint you. We are blessed to live in a community of people who care. Thank you for walking with me on that journey.

I will continue blogging about my life in other ways, so I hope that you stick around. I am about to embark on the next chapter in my life, graduate school, and move to Ohio next weekend for new and exciting challenges!

I’ll leave you with some song lyrics from Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”…

“Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.”


A Couple of Things….

First off, I apologize for using the word “spiteful” to describe the Superintendent in my Letter to the Editor. That was a label I used after talking with several people who work inside the school corporation, but only represents my opinion and is not necessarily a factual adjective.

Secondly, you will notice that I have removed the “Letter from Dr. Richmond” post on this blog. This was done at the request of Dr. Richmond because it was from her personal email and was one she did not wish to have shared publicly. If you have copies of that letter, I ask you to destroy them.

Also,  they asked that I clarify the NEOLA policy mentioned in a previous post applies to contracts and things like that. The example they supplied was that if they had a brother who was a roofing contractor, they couldn’t arrange him to do all school roofing projects and have the brother give a kickback for those projects.

I met with two members of the School Board today, Mike White and Mike Dean, to talk about some of the issues I have raised here. They asked me to let you know the following things:

  • In regard to the State Board of Accounts Audit–they are still working on how to handle that, and cannot talk about much of it because of litigation and personnel reasons. They also informed me that there CANNOT be an independent investigation of those claims because the State Board of Accounts is the only body that can conduct that investigation. They also noted that the State Board of Accounts had failed to catch many of the items discussed in the audit when they had performed another audit a couple of years earlier.
  • Secondly, they conducted a thorough investigation into the claims made in Mr. Slaughter’s letter and found them to be non-factual.
  • Thirdly, they made note that the City Council issued its letter requesting the Board for disclosure and openness without having talked to a single board member prior to sending that letter.
  • Fourthly, they expect Dr. Richmond to address what steps the corporation has taken to prevent such financial mistakes from occurring in the future.
  • Finally, they are encouraged by the number of people who have stepped up as concerned citizens and hope to work with people in the future to address our community’s common problems.

I pressed them for the following things, and we will have to see how those pan out:

  1. Publish on the website  contact information for school board members (get them a corporation e-mail address or something).
  2. Make available appendices and attachments to the minutes that are referenced in the minutes.
  3. Hold community forums with more than 96 hours notice.
  4. Obey Open Door Laws as they pertain to Minutes from Executive Sessions, i.e. publishing a vague list of the items talked about in such meetings.
  5. Move questions and comments to the end of the meeting, or perhaps during the individual items, so that the public knows what they can ask questions about. (They seemed to indicate that questions will now be heard towards the end of future meetings).
  6. They fully read items voted on at meetings, as possible, and make every effort to have the minutes paint as full a picture as possible in those minutes.
  7. Tape meetings of the School Board and make them available for public consumption on YouTube.
  8. Post School Board meetings on the calendar.

Again I ask that you continue to be involved in this conversation. There are definitely items that still need to be discussed but I ask that you stay involved in this process. We have to continue to work for the betterment of the schools.


ISTEP Scores Released

Yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett released ISTEP scores for the spring. About 500,000 students in grades 3 thru 8 took the exams. The State of Indiana set record highs in achievement, with 71.4% of students passing both the Math and Reading portions of the examination.

http://www.indystar.com/interactive/article/20120710/NEWS/120709042/Database-ISTEP-Test-Scores

80% of student passed the Math portion, while 79% passed the English portion.

But where do Greencastle schoools stack up?

The school district has made strides over the past year, improving by nearly 4%. Everyone in the school corporation should be proud of that improvement. However, we can definitely do better.

And what do the numbers look like when you break them down by individual school?

Greencastle MS — 68.35% passing both/75.16% passing English/80% passing Math/Improvement of .07%

Tzounakis Intermediate– 75.45% passing both/81.98% passing English/84.68% passing Math/Improvement of 7.62%

(Editorial Note: Way to go folks at TZ, keep improving those test scores!)

The anemic growth in the Middle School is surely cause for alarm, especially after the school received a “D” from the state last year and has been threatened by a state takeover unless scores improve. Those grades are due out in August per the Indianapolis Star report.

As you can see from the state numbers, Greencastle schools are average in the State of Indiana. And, they are right around the other schools in Putnam County:

South Putnam 72.26%

Greencastle 71.86%

North Putnam 68.44%

Cloverdale 67.89%

Things have certainly been tough on Greencastle since IBM left in the late 1980s and the socio-economic makeup of the city has changed in the last twenty years.

As I have mentioned before, we are fortunate to be in the same community as DePauw University, one of the nation’s best liberal arts colleges. We can and should be doing better.

While this has not been on the list of concerns in the Concerned Citizens’ meetings, it should concern every person in our community. At a time when nationally, accountability is a trend and money is taken away from districts who do not make the grade. No Superintendent, School Board, Principal, Teacher, or Parent can ensure that a child is adequately prepared to take the ISTEP. It truly takes a village to make the meaningful progress we need.

So, again, it’s time to get involved in your child’s education. Make sure that you are involved in the fight to improve the quality of education in our community. Come out to Dr. Richmond’s community conversation on Thursday and ask about what is being done to improve Greencastle schools. If the State is going to demand accountability, the citizens of Greencastle can too.