INDIANAPOLIS — The Gary Community School Corp. emergency manager does not have the authority to fill vacancies or appoint officers on the district's board of trustees.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has issued an official advisory opinion that finds only the trustees have the power to replace a departed member, and likewise only the trustees are entitled to select the board's president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.
The Republican said in his four-page analysis that while Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley last year was granted considerable power to operate the cash-strapped district in place of its elected School Board, state lawmakers did not authorize her to address trustee vacancies.
"This is specifically reserved to the board itself under existing — and unaffected — statutory provisions," Hill said.
"The Legislature is presumed aware that by enacting (Senate Enrolled Act 567), but not amending or repealing any other law with respect to the board of school trustees filling its own vacancies and electing its own officers, the Legislature intended this result."
Indeed, Hoosier lawmakers last week were poised to give final approval to a measure clarifying that Gary School Board members had the responsibility to replace a member who died, resigned or otherwise ended his or her service on the largely powerless School Board.
House Bill 1315, however, did not receive a final vote before the legislative session expired March 14 and cannot be enacted into law.
The issue arose in January when officials at the state board overseeing the Gary school district takeover advised Hinckley that she was authorized to replace Rosie Washington, the Gary School Board president who resigned Dec. 31, and Hinckley took steps to fill the vacancy.
Courtney Schaafsma, executive director of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board, said she still was reviewing the attorney general's opinion and declined to comment on it.
Hinckley also did not immediately return a request for comment.
But state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, who requested the legal review in conjunction with other Gary-area state lawmakers, said he was pleased by the attorney general's interpretation of the law relating to Gary's School Board.
"I do understand they don't have any fiscal or specific governing powers over the district," Melton said.
"But once you look at them still being an elected body by the community, and them having the ability to go through the proper protocol if there is a vacancy, I think that's still important to respect that aspect of that law."
Official opinions by the attorney general are not binding in any Indiana court proceeding, though they generally are respected by judges and lawyers for their legal guidance.