INDIANAPOLIS — The elected trustees of Gary Community School Corp., already sidelined by a state-appointed emergency manager, would see their role further diminished under legislation approved Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee.
House Bill 1315, sponsored by state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, changes the Gary school board, in law, from the district's governing body to merely an advisory committee to the emergency manager.
Under the plan, Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley no longer would have to regularly consult with school board members about her decisions.
Instead, she'd only have to run them past Gary's mayor and the district's fiscal management board.
The school board, meanwhile, would be prohibited from holding public meetings more than four times a year, though it could still meet monthly in executive session.
In any case, board members would receive no pay for attending those meetings.
Hinckley, on the other hand, would be required to participate in a monthly public forum to advise Gary residents about the status of their school corporation.
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, both strongly opposed the committee's decision to effectively eliminate the school board as a meaningful institution after just six months of experience with an emergency manager helming the district.
"We are treading on very, very dangerous ground by allowing this kind of distortion, or maneuvering, of existing legislation, and yet we're going to allow that," Brown said. "This is the golden rule: He who has the gold, rules."
"It just so happens that 90 percent of you have no clue about life in Gary, Indiana, but you're making major decisions about Gary, Indiana."
Smith said he understood the point of the emergency manager was to remedy the financial emergency and then restore authority to the school trustees, which he believes might no longer be possible if this proposal becomes law.
"You're creating a sense of helplessness in Gary, Indiana," Smith said. "(My constituents) feel now they have no voice."
Tim Brown, the sponsor, said the legislation remains a work in progress, and likely will be revised as it moves through the Republican-controlled House and Senate.