State Senator Randy Head (R-Logansport) paid a visit to Culver recently, updating members and guests of the Culver Kiwanis Club on the latest in the state legislature.
In his introduction of Head, Marshall County coroner Bill Cleavenger noted the senator represents the recently established District 18, which includes Union, West, Green, Walnut, and Tippecanoe Townships, and was born and raised in Indianapolis. A Wabash College graduate with an Indiana University law degree, Head was deputy prosecutor in multiple counties, working on gang and child sex crime cases. He replaced Senator Weatherwax in 2008, and is married to Marion County deputy prosecutor Lisa Head.
Head explained redistricting is required every ten years by Indiana's constitution, following the census, with the goal that all districts should be close to the same population. Head's district includes all of three counties and parts of others, and he said he's "lucky" to have this part of Marshall County in his district.
That's particularly true, he said, given some of his past positions, such as prosecuting in Lake County in 1995, where Gary, Ind., was murder capital of the U.S., as well as gang prosecuting in Indianapolis.
"Some of the neighborhoods (there)...a murder isn't even in the paper; in my district today, it would be front page news," he pointed out.
Discussing upcoming state legislation, Head said he hopes the next session isn't as "exciting" as the past two years, during which walk-outs from some legislators took place in protest of the "Right to Work" bill, which Head said he voted for.
There will be plenty of heated discussions this year centered on budgets, he noted, which are passed every two years.
Head said cuts in education particularly pained him.
"We cut deep," he said. "No one liked it. It's simply that the money wasn't there. Now we're exceeding projections in income, and I'm hopeful we can put the budget back to the way it was."
Positives for business development have taken place in the past few years, Head added, including lowering corporate income taxes, which he said brought 13 businesses to Indiana from Illinois.
One area up for reform pertains to Indiana's Department of Child Services, Head explained, noting that department is the only one legally able to remove a child from its parents or guardians.
A shift to a centralized hotline, based in Indianapolis, and away from local or county-based dispatching, in hopes of making the process of reporting potential child endangerment more efficient, has had problems, Head said.
A slew of reports of calls to the central hotline not acted upon left children in danger, he noted.
"It's well documented, and I think something will be done about it."
Another controversial law pertained to requiring voters to present photo identification, Head said, though he pointed out anyone, regardless of income, can go to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles and obtain a photo i.d.
"I think it worked very well...voter fraud has been replete throughout the history of this country, and it can change the results of a close election."
He hopes to introduce a bill to require a photocopy of a voter's identification if voting takes place by U.S. Mail.
Fielding questions from audience members, Head discussed 2011 legislation allowing students to use public funds to attend private schools, opting out of the public education system, something he acknowledged public school teachers "hate."
"We don't have enough data, system-wide, to say it works," said Head. "Anecdotally, I know there are families where one student gets improvement from going to another school (besides the local public one)."
Head emphasized he believes charter schools seem to work in urban environments -- particularly where the public school system is at its weakest -- but he's not sure if such schools would be a good fit here.
Asked if the state's surplus funds could be used to aid struggling public schools, Head responded monies spent from "rainy day" funds in the state budget are temporary fixes.
"Then we're right back where we were...we have to find a way to fund them year after year after year."
Head said he doesn't think serious discussion of school consolidation will recur in the near future.
"I toured schools -- including the one here in Culver -- and voted against consolidating small schools just because they're small. Most public school supporters don't like what (state Superintendent of Public Education) Tony Bennett has done, but he disagreed with the governor on this (school consolidation).
"It's a lot easier for a kid to get involved in the school newspaper, school play, or get individual attention from a teacher (in a small school)," Head continued. "I think it's harder to fall through the cracks...we killed that (consolidation) bill in 2009 with extreme prejudice."
Asked about controversies in the public school arena at present, Head said the new, state-mandated evaluation system has angered many public school teachers.
Public school administrators must spend more time in classrooms conducting one-on-one evaluations of teachers via the new requirements, Head said, which he sees as a positive thing. Teachers are placed in one of four categories, and those in the lowest receive no raise. If they remain there for two consecutive years, they can be terminated.
"Teachers are understandably frightened," he said. "Standardized tests are a substantial part of it. I think teachers have a good point, because (using) standardized tests from teachers over a 10-year period, you can get a good evaluation of a teacher. But one year doesn't reflect the truth. We need to look at how each child has done in prior years. I don't think a teacher should be fired for one bad year.
"There's nothing, legislatively, we can do about parents. A lot of kids are taught to disrespect teachers, and we need to take that into account when we evaluate teachers."