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Who will run the GCSC when state control ends?

GARY RESIDENTS AND advocates for an elected school board (l-r) Lovetta Tindal, Dr. Michaela Spangenburg, Natalie Ammons, and Atty. Tracy Coleman with State Senator Eddie Melton (center)

Who will run the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) when state control ends?

That’s one of the determinations for legislators in the 2023 session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Every school district in the state of Indiana has a school board, except for the state-operated Gary Community School Corporation. Gary lost its school board after the state took control of the district in 2017, to help the district pay its bills.

Now that the school corporation is in better financial shape and operating with a balanced budget, the state’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board has signaled it no longer needs to manage the district. Before the DUAB can release the district from distressed status, the district needs a governing body or school board.

DUAB Chairman Justin McAdam noted during several 2022 meetings, “The legislature must decide who the district will be returned to.” The DUAB has suggested state control should end by June 2025.

So far, SB436, legislation authored by Democratic State Senator Eddie Melton, of Gary, would require the corporation’s school board to be elected in the November 7 2023 General Election and take office seven days later. The bill was introduced on the House side, as HB1491, by Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary.

State Senator Ryan Mishler, a Republican from Bremen, has also authored a Gary schools bill, SB327. His bill requires the Gary school board members to be appointed.

Sen. Melton’s bill would require the DUAB to end its management of the district by June 30, 2024. Sen. Mishler’s bill would require the governing body to submit a report on its prior fiscal year finances and operations to the DUAB, starting not later than October 31, 2025, and each October 31 thereafter,

Melton is optimistic about a solution. “I’m aware that Senator Ryan Mishler also has a bill to create a new governing board that allows the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to appoint members of this board. I am firmly against this proposal, but I am optimistic that Mishler and myself will be able to come to a solution.”

The Republican proposal also concerns a group of Gary residents who favor an elected school board and a clear timeline to get there. Some traveled to Indianapolis last week and met with Republican State Senator Liz Brown from Fort Wayne, a DUAB Advisory Member. Brown, like Rep. Smith, is a non-voting DUAB member.

The Gary group will meet with Sen. Mishler at the end of January.

This time last year at the start of the legislative session, a Gary schools bill was introduced by Republicans. HB1187 provided for a 7-member school board with 5 members appointed by the state superintendent and the remaining 2 members coming from a list of names suggested by the Gary mayor and Gary city council. The state superintendent would select the appointees from the list.

That bill increased the perception in the Gary community that the state takeover would never end. Although HB1187 was pulled by its author, it galvanized Gary residents to organize and keep the issue of local control before the public.

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