INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House and Senate have approved legislation that further reduces the role of the already powerless elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp.
State lawmakers from both chambers now will decide over the next week whether to send the Senate-backed plan, the House-endorsed measure or some hybrid of the two to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for him to either sign into law or veto.
House Bill 1315, as approved 35-14 Tuesday by the Senate, makes the trustees an "advisory board" to the district's emergency manager, Peggy Hinckley, and limits the board to four public meetings per year. The House preferred "advisory committee."
Either way, Hinckley would continue exercising all the district's academic and financial authority under a 2017 state law enacted after the trustees repeatedly failed to match the district's spending to its shrinking revenue, and racked up more than $100 million in debt.
The legislation eliminates a requirement that Hinckley regularly consult with the local school board members, but her decisions would remain subject to oversight by the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board.
She also would be required to hold a monthly public forum to keep Gary residents apprised of what's happening in their school district.
At the same time, the Gary school board members would be permitted to recommend polices to Hinckley, fill board vacancies on their own and present awards to students.
The measure additionally puts Ball State University in charge of operating Muncie Community Schools, and sets up a process for the state to monitor and assist other financially struggling school corporations.
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, and state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, condemned the proposal because it minimizes the role of the Gary school board members who were elected to represent the people of Gary on education issues.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, suggested the Legislature was shirking its constitutional duty to maintain a uniform public school system by permitting several different entities to operate school districts.