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Rep. Smith concerned over Gary schools takeover bill

State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) said the Republican plan to resurrect a bill during the upcoming special session to take away the elected powers of the Gary School Board is reprehensible and an attack on local control as well as on the power of Gary citizens to determine their own elected governments.

“House Bill 1315 failed in the waning hours of the regular session and now House and Senate Republican leaders want to raise it back to life, like a vampire draining the blood of the democratic process of self-determination,” said Dr. Smith. “The bill would mute the powers of the elected Gary School Board and transform it into only an advisory board, with little to no power, which reports to the state-chosen emergency manager.

“In addition, the board would be limited to only four public meetings a year as well as not require the emergency manager to regularly consult the board about the school district’s budget and other critical issues facing the school district,” explained Dr. Smith. “The community has accepted the role of the emergency manager, but so few meetings mean a loss of accountability.

“There is a disenfranchisement when an outside person makes the important decisions while elected officials are powerless to fulfill the duties of their offices,” continued Dr. Smith. “There is also a disenfranchisement of the community which has a loss of input. That disenfranchisement leads to a loss of hope. The truth is that none of us is as smart as all of us. We need input from the community as well as from the stakeholders. This situation is absolutely unacceptable. The Republicans are insensitive to the plight of the urban community and do not know how to run schools effectively.”

Gov. Holcomb and the Republican leaders in the House and Senate intend to make the May 14 special session only a one-day event.

“I have a significant problem with a one-day session,” said Dr. Smith. “This rushed schedule will not allow public testimony by Gary residents, including school parents, school board members and teachers. The abbreviated session also means that there will be little time to debate this contentious bill. This is a controversial bill that needs to be fully vetted, yet it likely will not because there will be a rush to get all of the bills passed. This one-day session will have all the transparency of a brick wall.

“’Matthew 5:15 says, ‘Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house,’” quoted Dr. Smith. “And we in the Indiana House of Representatives need to see in the light of clear day what is being done to Gary. This bill directly affects our people and the full legislative process should be not be hidden under a political bushel basket. The truth is this is a bad bill that died and it should remain dead and buried.”

Dr. Smith urged Gary citizens to contact the bill’s author State Rep. Tim Brown (R-Crawfordsville), who is also the House Ways and Means chairman, House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and State Sen. President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) to express concerns about the bill.

“I also urge the citizens of Gary to stand up on this issue to be heard at the Statehouse,” said Dr. Smith. “Parents, teachers, school board members, and anyone concerned about the future of schools in Gary need to be present at the Statehouse during this special session May 14. Our voices need to be heard. They must be heard. If we do not speak up in a loud voice and in person, then the Republicans will do whatever they want to Gary and they will take our silence as an affirmation that they are right and that our community doesn’t care. We cannot let that happen.”

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