HAMMOND — The School City of Hammond board approved the application for a $1.2 million common school loan Wednesday night in their first meeting after voting to close three elementary schools and begin the process of staff reductions.
The common school loan — which Superintendent Scott Miller said will be paid through the district's debt service fund over five years — will support the roll out of 1-to-1 education, bringing Chromebooks to all Hammond high school students.
Miller said the 1-to-1 implementation will not begin immediately at the start of the next school year, but as school staff and student are trained on their use.
The vote comes the same week as some teachers are learning of their fates in the future of the School City of Hammond in a process expected to reduce more than 130 positions before the start of next school year.
Among the positions being reduced are media specialists, drawing the ire of Hammond educators who expressed in the Wednesday night meeting that they rely on these professionals in the implementation of classroom technology, especially given the expected introduction of student Chromebooks.
"This is not helping teachers to excel," said Jamaica Sawyers, a sixth grade English and social studies teacher who learned on Monday — Hammond students' last day of school — that she was being cut. "I am concerned that we are not providing what is necessary to excel."
Miller emphasized that library aides would be kept in the district under the direction of one media specialist serving the entirety of the school city — the Region's largest by student population.
The staff reductions come as a means to avoid falling into a projected $10.2 million deficit by the end of 2020.
The media specialist cuts are expected to save the district more than $700,000, Miller said.
"This decisions are awful," the superintendent told a full Hammond board room Wednesday. "The reality of it is if we don't make adjustments, we don't make payroll."
Declining enrollment has been a major factor leading to the district's current financial challenges.
The school city decided to close enrollment in 2017, around the same time the district sought two referendums — one funding school operations and the other to foot the cost of a new secondary school under construction behind Hammond High School. The district lost 545 students the following school year.
In a state funding formula where dollars follow the student from district to district, declining enrollment in Hammond schools has led to a $3.6 million loss in state funding this school year. Ninety percent of Hammond's operating budget is made up of state funding, Miller said in a meeting last month.
The board also heard the first reading of an updated policy expected to reopen enrollment with caps for the number of students entering each school and grade level.
The School City of Hammond board is expected to give the updated policy a second read and vote at its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 18 in the school city's Administration Building.