GARY — Some Gary school board members say they get questions from their constituents about the school corporation and don't know how to respond, because the board has no power.
The Board of Trustees for the Gary Community School Corp. held a regular meeting Tuesday night and discussed a variety of subjects, including the board's position under state control and the teacher contract.
The Gary public school district was taken over by the state due to its struggling financial and academic status. As a result, it is under the authority of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board.
Senate Enrolled Act 567 required DUAB to appoint an emergency manager. DUAB appointed longtime educator Peggy Hinckley, a Gary native who now lives in Schererville, as the Emergency Manager, along with MGT Consulting.
That law, enacted in April, gives Hinckley near-total authority to implement academic and financial changes, negotiate contracts and run the Gary school corporation, subject only to review by a local advisory board and DUAB oversight.
The elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. and the district's superintendent, Cheryl Pruitt, have no official say in decisions made by the emergency manager. By law, the Gary school board now can only meet once per month, rather than the weekly committee and board meetings that were routine in the past.
Hinckley, along with Gary labor relations attorney Dan Friel, presented the newly approved teacher's contract to the school board for information only. DUAB approved the contract earlier this month.
Friel said there was no salary increase, and the one-year contract, which ends in June, remains much the same. He said beginning teachers will continue to receive $40,500 a year, which is competitive with other Region schools.
School board member Robert Buggs questioned the contract's language, which says the agreement is between teachers and the board of trustees.
"I didn't sign anything, and I don't have anything to do with this contract," he said. "I don't think it should say anything about the board ... I also think teachers ought to start at $60,000 or $70,000."
Hinckley and Friel repeatedly responded to questions about the contract and its phrasing, with Friel finally offering to "wipe" the word board out of the contract and instead replace it with Gary Community School Corp. Hinckley said she would check with state officials to see if the wording could be changed.
Gary school board President Rosie Washington said, "I don't know why we have the meeting. We have no power. I could be at home ..."
School board member Darling Pleasant said she understands her fellow board members' and the community's frustration but they are taking it out on the wrong people. She urged residents and school officials to write and email Indianapolis legislators.
Gary teachers union President GlenEva Dunham said despite the "mixed emotions" about the board's being stripped of power, "this is what we're operating under. Peggy Hinckley is the emergency manager. We have to form relationships with her, and we have to work together, and that's what the union is doing. At the end of the day, she is the person who makes the decisions."