INDIANAPOLIS — State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, believes it is "wrong" for Statehouse Republicans to revive a proposal in the upcoming special session that further sidelines the elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp.
House Bill 1315 would make the Gary School Board into merely an advisory board for the district's state-appointed emergency manager, limit the board to four public meetings a year and free the emergency manager from a requirement that she regularly consult the board about the district's budget and other major decisions.
Melton celebrated, along with other state lawmakers representing Gary, when that legislation died at midnight March 14 after the General Assembly failed to vote on it before its annual regular session expired.
But GOP leaders last week said the proposal again will be eligible for final passage, without changes, at the May 14 one-day special session.
Melton said it's "misguided" and "disenfranchises" Gary voters for the Republican House and Senate supermajorities to suspend the Indiana Constitution, and numerous procedural rules, to force through such a significant measure in a single day.
"That means that public testimony and opportunity for debate on this controversial bill that affects my entire community will be nonexistent," Melton said.
Under the measure, the Gary School Board would retain the power to fill vacancies and appoint its leaders. But that's largely a ceremonial function as the board's authority to operate the district last year was transferred to Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley.
"The emergency manager in Gary has shown to be capable at handling the job assigned to her," Melton said.
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"We do not need to pass a bill during legislative overtime that is not only unnecessary but will bypass the legislative process to eliminate the voice and the votes of the people."
Melton also is opposed to another provision in the legislation ceding control of Muncie Community Schools to Ball State University, the largest employer in the east-central Indiana city.
"If this is really what the Muncie community wants then we should let them work that out rather than the state taking it upon themselves to legislatively mandate this," he said.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb only has publicly endorsed the portion of House Bill 1315 that provides Muncie schools an emergency state loan of $12 million. He's said nothing about the Gary sections of the legislation.
But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, insisted the entire measure, as-is, is needed to improve Gary and Muncie schools, and said Holcomb is on board with their plan to enact it in a single day.
"I certainly expect Democrats in the Senate, and perhaps the House, too, to make some noise about some of these bills, particularly 1315," Long said. "We do feel that we're doing the right thing for the schoolchildren there.
"These are two school entities that, year after year, ignored all the requests from the Legislature to get their fiscal house in order, and it's pretty bad up in Gary right now particularly, but also with Muncie."
Long said additional opportunities for public input on the measure are not needed because it already was fully vetted during the regular legislative session.