Tempers flared at this week’s School City of Hammond board meeting as the district continued with its cost reduction plan by cutting 24 custodians Tuesday night.
The decision Tuesday night drew frustration even from reserved members of the board who criticized the speed and nature reductions have come at across the district.
"I'm very upset, I don't like anyone losing their job," board vice president Anna Mamala said. "I think this whole thought process should have been longer."
Others in the community raised concerns about rumors that Maywood Elementary, which will take a majority of students from the closing Lafayette Elementary, would experience overcrowding and lose its arts and music programs.
Superintendent Scott Miller, who stepped into his role in April, defended the school city's reduction plans, saying that his team has worked with union leaders to determine how best to notify staff of reductions and that, after a reassessment of school districting, class sizes at Maywood would remain under 30 students with five open classrooms available in the building.
The school will see no changes in its arts and music programs, he said. However, with the elimination of computer labs, incoming Maywood students will benefit from the district's move to 1-to-1 technology, each receiving a Hammond Chromebook.
The school city’s reductions come as administrators look to chip away at a projected $10.2 million deficit. Matt Ruess, brought on this spring as a financial consultant, gave a presentation Tuesday night calling attention to overspending from the school city’s operations fund.
According to Ruess' report, the fund currently sits $700,000 in the red — something that could be mitigated with a transfer of funds when September student enrollment count numbers come in determining the amount of state funding the school city will receive for the fall semester.
"As we know that number in September, we will start making adjustments," Ruess said. "You've already started making those adjustments with the reductions you made last month and in the coming months that are planned. They are critical for you to finish in the black."
In addition to staff reductions and school closures, the district has increased its enrollment efforts, entering an agreement to create a new virtual school and opening enrollment to students living outside of the district.
Tuesday night's custodial cuts will result in a $1.7 million savings in the district's operations spending, Miller said. More than 100 custodians will remain on staff.
The reductions and closures have particularly struck a chord with some parents taking note of the schools' locations in primarily minority-serving neighborhoods. Before their slated closures, Columbia Elementary served a student body of 91% minority ethnicity, and Lafayette Elementary about 96%, according to Indiana Department of Education data.
Miller said the two elementaries were selected to close because of their age and because their debts had been paid off.
"We're imperfect, I'll admit that, but our heart on the Hammond administrative team is to serve kids," Miller said. "I am committed to improving the education of not just any one sector, but across the board in Hammond."