Crusader Staff Report
Gary School Board members are on high alert as a bill aimed at weakening the board’s authority has cleared another hurdle in the Indiana General Assembly.
On Tuesday, March 6, the Senate passed the bill with a 35-14 vote, two months after it passed the Indiana House. The bill now goes to Governor Eric Holcomb who will most likely approve the bill by signing it into legislation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee in February heard testimony for more than four hours on the bill, which could reduce the Gary School Board to an advisory committee that would meet just four times a year.
The bill’s sponsor, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, believes the bill would give struggling school districts more clarity to avoid pitfalls that struck Gary and the Muncie Community Schools, which also has been taken over by the state.
Once the bill becomes a state law, Gary Schools Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley would no longer be required to meet with the board or receive input from its members. The new law would require her to hold monthly public meetings to update citizens on her actions. Current school board members would remain until their terms expire. They could also elect their own officers and replace members who resign.
Last August, the state takeover law stripped the superintendent and school board of their authority. The board was limited to meeting just once per month. Since then, multiple board members have criticized Hinckley and expressed disappointment of their reduced role. Former Board President Rosie Washington resigned in December and School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt’s last day was February 2.
The bill also affects Muncie Community Schools, another troubled school district that was taken over by the state. Under the bill, that district will be operated by Ball State University.
Under Hinckley, Gary Schools is struggling to reduce debts totaling over $100 million. Since Hinckley was appointed last July, she has been at odds with board members and some parents who don’t agree with her decisions as emergency manager. Hinckley says cuts are necessary to keep the district afloat.
Last month, Hinckley decided to close the 79-year old Wirt-Emerson School of Visual and Performing Arts in the Miller neighborhood. The Indiana State Board of Education approved the decision on March 2, making this year’s graduating class the last one in Wirt-Emerson’s history. Some 225 students are enrolled at Wirt-Emerson.
In a letter, Miller Citizens Corp. President George Rogge said the closing won’t represent a savings if students decide not to attend West Side or the recommended middle school, Bailly.
Hinckley said she is considering closing Gary’s storied Roosevelt College and Career Academy, which is managed by EdisonLearning Inc.
Last January, Hinckley appointed veteran member Nellie Moore as president of the Gary School Board, over the protests of three other board members, who walked out of the meeting.