Crusader Staff Report
Despite months of opposition and concerns, state lawmakers on Monday May 14, passed a bill that would reduce the Gary School Board meetings and allow the district to make mid-year layoffs.
The move was another setback for Gary school officials, who have no control over financial and academic decisions in their district.
The decision came during a special session in Indianapolis. The bill was one of a handful that lawmakers failed to pass when the legislative session ended in March. During the special session, Gary lawmakers were outnumbered by a supermajority of Republican lawmakers who have long been viewed as distant and unsympathetic to the plight of Gary’s struggling school district.
In the Republican Majority House, the bill passed 63-30 and 34-14 in the Senate.
The new legislation will reduce the Gary School Board to an advisory committee and limit its meetings to just four per year. Board members would no longer be paid per meeting, but they will still receive a $2,000 annual stipend allowed to school boards under state law.
But there is now concern that the new legislation will disenfranchise the district and shut out local officials who had been part of the decision-making process for years. Gary officials and parents are worried that the new legislation will give more power to Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley as she continues to make drastic cuts to reduce the district’s debts totaling over $100 million.
Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne), blamed the board for much of the district’s financial challenges.
“They brought this on themselves, unfortunately,” he said.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), said in one news report that changes were necessary to benefit students in the district.
“To say we are going to keep doing it the same way, is just banging our head against the wall,” he said.
Several Gary officials, including Board President Nellie Moore, and Gary Teachers Union President GlenEva Dunham and various union members, reportedly watched the vote from the Senate Balcony.
Dunham in one news report said lawmakers had “read transcripts” and kept tabs on contentious Gary school board meetings where members challenged Hinckley.
For months, Gary Democratic lawmakers argued that Gary residents would be disenfranchised without an elected school board. They also argued that the state takeover law needed more time for some board members to figure out their role as they continued to build a stronger relationship with Hinckley.
Gary will reportedly lose about 80 teachers at the end of the school year through long-term substitutes leaving.
The new bill would allow the school district to lay off up to 5 percent of certified staff. Hinckley recently announced Gary will cut up to 60 jobs, but will refrain from laying off certified teachers.
Hinckley said in one news report that she has taken a “neutral position” on the new legislation. Hinckley also said she doesn’t think the new legislation will impact teacher recruitment in Gary as the Gary Teachers Union believes. Hinckley said in one news report that she hopes more teachers will be needed if enrollment increases in August.