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January 22, 2014

MARK BENNETT: Indiana should revisit its time-zone classification

TERRE HAUTE — Mister Spock would look at the situation in Indiana and, in that dispassionate “Star Trek” voice, utter a firm conclusion.

“That is illogical,” he’d say.

A new state law forces school districts to apply their revenues from property taxes toward debt payments before other expenses — a fiscal responsibility measure. For many districts, the “protected levy” law would cause hefty cuts to their transportation budgets. Some expect to curtail or even eliminate school bus services, especially districts in counties hard hit by diminishing industrial bases and lost taxes paid by those businesses. Those funds helped repair old buses and buy new ones.

Thus, more Hoosier kids may have to walk to school. Also, more teens may drive or share rides to school.

In the dark.

The Indiana Legislature is currently considering two bills to address the impact of the protected levy law, which takes effect July 1. Some districts already have reduced bus service because of revenue losses from property-tax caps enacted in 2008. Goshen Community Schools Superintendent Diane Woodworth, in an interview with CNHI Indiana Statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden, said she asked teachers to urge students affected by bus cuts to stay on the sidewalks as they walk to school, especially on dark winter mornings. “It’s frightening some mornings to see those children out walking in the dark,” Woodworth said.

This is “The Decade of Unintended Consequences” in Indiana, thanks to the Legislature.

This same governmental body that enacted daylight saving time in 2006, putting most of the state in the Eastern time zone, should seriously consider the more logical option — placing all of Indiana on Central time.

Yes, yes, the arguments remain fresh in mind eight years later. And lots of Hoosiers, myself included, have grown accustomed to the long summer nights afforded by Eastern Daylight Time. But, given the predicament facing schools, students and their families, Central time makes more sense. Kids would walk to school more safely in daylight.

The sun rose Wednesday over Terre Haute at 8:05 a.m. Classes start around that time in most Hoosier schools. If Indiana clocks followed Central time, the sunrise Wednesday would’ve been at 7:05 a.m. In fact, the latest sunup in 2014 would be 7:10 a.m., according to Jeff Sagarin, a MIT-educated mathematics expert from Bloomington. (The NCAA has used Sagarin’s college basketball rankings to help determine the Big Dance field for the past three decades, and they’ve appeared in USA Today since 1985. His calculations are accurate.)

Sagarin says with certainty, “Indiana is in the wrong time zone.”

The true longitudinal boundaries of the Eastern zone are the tip of Maine to the east, and Mansfield, Ohio, to the west, Sagarin explained. The center of the zone bisects Philadelphia. By contrast, the center of the Central time zone runs through St. Louis. Obviously, Indiana is closer to the Gateway Arch than the City of Brotherly Love. Geographically, Indiana belongs on Central time, Sagarin said.

To recap, Hoosiers had the choice between Eastern and Central back in 2006, after the Legislature adopted daylight saving time as Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed for the state to abandon its we-never-change-our-clocks Eastern Standard Time. Supposedly, business would benefit from being on daylight saving time and then further by joining Wall Street (700 miles away) on Eastern Daylight Time. So, after a protracted, confusing and tense period, Eastern time prevailed, putting 80 of 92 counties on New York’s time, with a dozen near Chicago and Evansville following Central time.

The 9:30 p.m. summer sunsets won out over sunlit 7 o’clock morning walks.

“It just offended me that people could be so colossally misled,” Sagarin said.

Advocates continue prodding the Legislature to put Indiana on Central time, unsuccessfully so far.

Greg Walker, a Republican state senator from Columbus, filed a resolution that would start the Central time conversion process by petitioning the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct public hearings on the proposal. It’s unlikely to go anywhere in the lawmakers’ 2014 session. Last week, the Central Time Coalition submitted a petition of grievances to the Legislature, insisting that “Eastern time’s excessively late sunrises force hundreds of Indiana’s students to be pedestrians in morning darkness, thus violating their constitutional right to safety.” The petition adds that “inexperienced teens driving [to school] in the dark is also a safety issue.”

Sue Dillon, coalition president, emphasized the group isn’t opposed to Indiana’s observing daylight saving time. Instead, it endorses a switch from Eastern to Central time for several reasons, including the safety of schoolchildren.

“It gives them another hour of sunlight,” Dillon said. Research by John Gaski, associate professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame, supports that safety advantage of Central time. “It would save about 12 or 13 lives per year, or more, if this change occurs,” Gaski said by telephone Wednesday from South Bend.

It’s time for Indiana to revisit its time-zone issue.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

 

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