Op-Ed Senate Bill 567 and House Bill 1315 Purpose – Intent – Impact on Public Education’s Future in Gary, IN

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Robert Buggs

By Robert L. Buggs Sr.

Senate Enrolled Act 567 became effective July 1, 2017. The primary purpose was to authorize an Emergency Manager (EM) to assume full authority to eliminate the financial deficit of the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC). It further provided that the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) would hire a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and a Chief Academic Officer (CAO). These three entities in consultation with the GCSC Board of Trustees were to have eliminated all debt by July 2022 and have a 5-year financial sustainability plan in place and full authority returned to the GCSC Board of Trustees. Also, the designation of a “distressed political subdivision” would be removed.

NOTE:  Gary citizens voted “No” on two GCSC Referendums that gave rise to SB 567 as an emergency alternative to address the $110 million debt. The impact will never be known because of a series of blatant violations of SB 567 by the EM, Dr. Peggy Hinckley. She never consulted the Board of Trustees in setting the budget or allowed any input in the education of our students. Dr. Hinckley got rid of the superintendent and created a hostile working environment.

DUAB allowed the EM to hire the CFO and the CAO. The problem with this, in my opinion, was that race played a part in the hiring of the CFO, who is Black. His salary is far below that of a white male financial consultant. His bonus is less than $3,000 annually while the EM and her group receives a $2 million bonus over a 3-year period per her contract.

It had been suggested that Bailey Middle School be utilized as the designated middle school in Gary. However, in September 2018 the former Banneker Elementary School building was designated as the new location for Gary’s middle school students and the school was renamed Gary Middle School. The former Banneker Elementary School was not built to accommodate 1,000 students. Pictured above are the portable class rooms the Gary Community School Corporation had to purchase by December 2018 to alleviate overcrowding at the Gary Middle School. The overcrowding has led to several incidents requiring police intervention at the school.

This impacted public education because counselors, special education teachers and teachers were let go. The teachers have not had a pay raise in approximately 10 years. When the cost of living increases annually, their salary decreases. This has a profound impact on retaining quality teachers. Hence, the students’ education is negatively impacted.

The other issue that impacts our students’ education was the EM hiring the CAO who, in my opinion, is severely unqualified. Here are reasons why. The CAO recommended that Banneker School be utilized as a middle school. The problem with that recommendation is the school is too small to accommodate the number of students, which resulted in overcrowding, fights occurring frequently, and the school being locked down three times to date.

SEVERAL LARGE MOBILE classrooms were installed in the rear of the Gary Middle School.

Additionally, the CAO stated at a December 2018 School Board Meeting that he was “ordering” additional PODs to be used as classrooms. With the GCSC financial status, why waste money like that when Bailey Middle School is operational and under-utilized by a few hundred students. Those students could be moved to Glen Park Academy whose capacity is 1,000 students but currently has 380 students. And the middle students could move to Bailey Middle School.

Also, at the GCSC Board Meeting, the CAO provided a one-page report with the names of all the Gary schools for years 2017 and 2018. All of them had an ‘F’ grade except Westside and Wirt-Emerson, which had a ‘B’ grade.

THE NEW Gary Middle School opened fall 2018.

As a Board member, when I questioned him about the ‘F’ grades, he attributed them to classroom overcrowding. He said there were other factors, which he did not name, nor did he provide strategies he would employ to address the failing grades. The EM and DUAB are aware of this but no corrective actions are proposed by anyone.

After two years, the GCSC is still borrowing money and is approximately $90 million in debt.  The one school that is productive and successful is Bethune pre-K, and the EM and CAO have recommended that the school be closed.

You decide if SB 567 has eliminated the debt and improved grades. The graduation rate at Wirt-Emerson and Westside was a result of Dr. Cynthia Pruitt’s educational initiatives, not those of the current CAO.

HB 1315 became effective July 2018. The primary purpose and intent of this bill was to:

  • Eliminate the elected Board of Trustees
  • Deny per diem for attending school board meetings for board members
  • Change the meetings from once a month to every three months
  • Create an advisory committee
  • Deny the state stipend of $2,000 annually for elected School Board of Trustees
  • Terminate teachers after September 30 school year and not recognize the collective bargaining union
  • Bust the teachers’ union

This Bill is also known as the Buggs, Bailey and Piggee Bill because we are the three Board Members who questioned the EM about her violations of SB 567.

In my opinion, it is blatantly discriminatory and contains NO probative value that will eliminate the debt or improve the educational conditions of the students of the GCSC.

We cannot vote against State Representative Tim Brown because he does not represent us but can sponsor a law that is adverse to us.

I questioned Rep. Tim Brown, who lives in Crawfordsville, IN and is the sponsor of HB 1315. It was alleged that he did not like the Black male board members questioning his friend Dr. Peggy Hinckley, a white female. Rep. Tim Brown admitted to me that someone had sent him transcripts of the school board meetings prior to him sponsoring the Bill. HB 1315 applies to the GCSC only! No other school corporation in the State of Indiana is subject to the restrictions found therein.

This Bill is also racist in intent and purpose because of personal biases. There exists presently no legislation to ever return the authority to a School Board of Trustees. There are no provisions for increase of teachers’ salaries or building a new high school.

There is no band director at Westside High School, the gifted and talented program formerly housed at Wirt-Emerson School has been bureaucratically disbanded.

GCSC students are leaving the district and grades are failing. This is unacceptable and underserving of our students.

Under the auspices of HB 1315 the EM and DUAB are suggesting the possibility of recommending a GCSC 2019 referendum.

I will defiantly reject and vigorously oppose any referendum. That was the sole purpose of SB 567.  After paying millions of dollars to MGT and Gary Schools Recovery LLC, it would be an insult to ask the citizens of Gary to now pay off a debt those entities were paid to eliminate.

It has come to light that Tony Bennett, former State of Indiana School Superintendent, is an active Board member of MGT. I and fellow Board member Carlos Tolliver voiced our concerns when DUAB chose MGT consulting. The DUAB spokesperson admitted that she knew about Tony Bennett’s association with MGT before they hired them.

No person or entity has any input about the state of affairs of our students’ education. Senator Eddie Melton and Dr. Vernon Smith have requested that SB 567 be rescinded because of Tony Bennett’s affiliation with MGT.

It is time for the parents and stakeholders to take immediate responsibility to advocate for our students’ education.  SB 567 and HB 1315 have not.

What say you?

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