HAMMOND | The School City of Hammond gave its teachers union president 60 days' notice that it intends to eliminate his salary from its contract.

The school system has been paying the salary for Hammond Federation of Teachers President Patrick O'Rourke since the 1970s.

O'Rourke, among the longest-serving teachers union presidents in the state, is one of a very few whose salary is paid by a school corporation and not through union dues. O'Rourke earns $73,412 and does not teach.

O'Rourke, 70, said he intends to meet with school leaders and the attorney. He said he wants to seek ways to "modify the contract to satisfy everyone."

O'Rourke emphasized he works collaboratively with the school system to "problem solve," and the clause enabling the school system to pay him has been in place for many years. O'Rourke also said this may be his last year because he is considering retirement.

A July 27 letter to O'Rourke from the school district providing the salary termination notice followed an Indiana State Board of Accounts audit questioning the school system's payment to O'Rourke.

The letter to O'Rourke from Hammond schools attorney John Friel states the district has laid off nearly 100 teachers and can't justify continuing the payment.

Though the district has moved to cancel O'Rourke's salary, Friel said there has been nothing improper about paying O'Rourke in the past.

"The audit seemed to imply that there is something improper about it," Friel said. "Our position is that there is nothing improper, but this is the first time in many years that we have had to lay off teachers."

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Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.