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Education front and center during Cracker Barrel session


Indiana Dist. 39 State Senator Eric Bassler, R-Washington, spoke at a Cracker Barrel session Saturday morning at Patrick’s Restaurant. The event, hosted by the Sullivan County Farm Bureau branch, allowed the public to ask Bassler questions and hear information about the current legislative session.

Dist. 39 State Senator Eric Bassler, R-Washington, spent a large portion of a Cracker Barrel session on Saturday fielding questions concerning school regulations, funding and safety drills.

In particular, retired teacher Jill Hagameier expressed concerns with how active-shooter drills are being conducted — coming off of reports that teachers in Monticello were injured after being shot execution style with pellet guns.

“I don’t think legislators realize the responsibility of a teacher,” she said. “A teacher’s not just a teacher. They’re a nurse. They’re a counselor … they have all kinds of responsibilities, and, all the time, people are expecting more of them …

“I can understand having these drills, but I think that’s a bit too realistic because those people where that happened were traumatized,” she continued. “My kids (who also became teachers) have gone through those active shooter drills. My kids are tough and they can take it. But, when that happens unexpectedly, I mean, I would be traumatized.”

“We’re trying to put some guardrails up around that,” Bassler told her.

“I don’t think it should be done,” Hagameier quickly added. “I think there should be more stress on gun control rather than arming teachers or teaching them to dodge bullets.”

She tied this into lax background checks at gun shows and dealing with gun violence before it happens.

“I think you’re right. I think there are things that we could be doing prior to these kinds of events in hopes to decrease the number of them,” Bassler answered, explaining that the Indiana Statehouse is looking at programs already in place in certain areas of the state that provide intervention services, such as one that places social workers in schools.

Those social workers, he added, help students with mental health issues, leading to fewer discipline problems.

Bassler also said the legislature has increased funding for both K-12 education and the Department of Child Services.

However, Sullivan City Redevelopment Commission member Jim Conner questioned how much farther funding can stretch, with smaller, more rural school districts seeing less than larger, more urban neighbors.

In particular, Conner pointed to Northeast School Corp., which recently decided to consolidate its junior high into North Central High School and convert the old Northeast Middle School into corporation offices, allowing it to close its current office building.

Bassler said thought must be given to whether or not counties like Sullivan should have two school districts instead of one.

“It’s not popular to talk about these things, but, at some point, as we see school corporations have fewer and fewer students in rural Indiana, I think, at some point, we need to talk about consolidation of administration,” he said, noting some corporations form co-ops for things like special education or buying supplies.

“One of the challenges — and we want to leave it up to local schools — is, does it make sense for two school corporations that are adjacent to each other to merge their administration costs,” he continued. “That would be one school corporation but multiple high schools.”

In addition to education, Bassler fielded several other topics:

• Bassler said he and other legislators are looking into how best to expand broadband internet access to rural communities.

Currently, he said he hopes the providing incentives to companies to expand service areas will spread access — similar to the 1930s expansion of electricity.

He also noted this is important for improved education and medical services.

“And both of those rely heavily on internet access …” he added. “It’s hard on both those areas if you don’t have good internet access.”

• Bassler said moves have been made to limit annexation and control boundaries from cities, town and other entities — most notably Crane’s local facility at Lake Glendora that would have included a buffer radius that would have encompassed the whole city of Sullivan and portions of Dugger.

• With the recent addition of hate-crime legislation that was passed by the Statehouse, Bassler said he wasn’t opposed to the list that was created.

However, he didn’t expect changes to be made to it this year after it was passed without language that included protection based on sexual orientation, gender identity and age.

“These are things that we’re going to have to continue to work through as a society — how we work through them and how we deal with them,” he said. “But my gut instinct right now is that there won’t be any changes. Will there be changes in the future, there very well could be.”

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