By Stephanie Gadlin, Special to the Gary Crusader
Teachers are preparing to fight controversial legislation they say that will disenfranchise Gary schools and strip away their bargaining rights. House Bill 1315, which educators thought they had defeated in March, will be reintroduced during the special session called by Gov. Holcomb.
HB 1315 not only strengthens the power of the district’s emergency manager, but would also give Peggy Hinckley the ability to fire teachers at will, reduce the Gary school board to an advisory committee, and have the sole authority to direct the district’s budget, curriculum and hiring process. The legislation also targets the Muncie school district.
State House Republican leaders said the proposal again will be eligible for final passage, without changes, at the May 14 one-day special session. State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) told reporters last week that HB 1315 “disenfranchises Gary voters and suspends the Indiana Constitution.
“That means that public testimony and opportunity for debate on this controversial bill that affects my entire community will be nonexistent,” Melton told reporters last week.
While school leaders, such as West Side High School principal Terrance Little, dodged Crusader inquiry when visited upon campus, and Gary Community School Corporation officials and School Board president Nellie Moore (appointed by Hinckley in January) were not available for comment, teachers and other school employees were eager to voice their concerns.
Annie Anderson, a para teacher and Gary Teachers Union Local 4 representative at Lincoln High School told the Crusader, the legislation is a just another ploy to strip away teachers’ collective bargaining rights. “The government wants to take our voting rights away, dismantle the school board, and take away our rights,” she said. “We elected our school board–people from our community, to oversee our schools, and the state has replaced them with an emergency manager with no connection to Gary.
“They’ve taken away our seniority,” Anderson said, “and now they want to give Hinckley the right to walk in our classrooms and fire us on the spot. We don’t have any choice but to fight this–and this may be the spark that has teachers all over Indiana walking out of their classrooms in protest.”
The veteran educator was referring to state-wide teacher walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and West Virginia. Teachers in those states are protesting a range of issues, from wage disparities, rising healthcare costs and an increase in school funding
At another Gary school, a science teacher who requested anonymity told the Crusader, “[That legislation] is doing our school system a disservice. We’ve been working on our issues and had been making progress but in reality they are trying to take away even more of our rights. They don’t think we can manage ourselves in Northwest Indiana.
“We were implementing new strategies and working with our principals to improve academic performance across the board,” he said. “But as teachers we lack resources. Our equipment is outdated, and our buildings are not clean and have structural problems. Kids don’t want to be in darkened hallways or use water fountains and bathrooms that don’t work. Yes, the state is giving us money to keep us paid but we need our rooms to be cleaned, we need updated equipment and we need resources for our students.”
Another person who identified himself as a custodian, but also asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals from his school’s administrators said, “They just said they were going to fire another 60 people and that most of them would be custodians, bus drivers or food service people. None us know who it will be or when it will happen. That’s no way to treat people.”
Hinckley, a former educator and Schererville resident, was appointed emergency manager in July 2017.