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Senate committee revises plan to sideline Gary school trustees

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday revised a proposal to sideline the elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. by amending House Bill 1315 to give the board some continued relevance.

INDIANAPOLIS — The elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. would retain some relevance under a proposal revised Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, but a key Region lawmaker says it's still not good enough.

The amended version of House Bill 1315 that the full Senate will vote on next week continues making the trustees an advisory body to the district's state-appointed emergency manager, though they would be called an "advisory board" instead of an "advisory committee."

The advisory board would gain the power to once a year petition the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board to end its takeover of the school district once ongoing revenues exceed expenses, include debt service payments, subject to continuing DUAB oversight.

It also could present awards, certificates and recognition to school employees or district supporters.

At the same time, the revised measure ends the existing requirement that Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley regularly consult with the board about the district's budget, financial plan and other powers formerly exercised by board members that a 2017 state law gave to Hinckley after the board repeatedly overspent its revenue and racked up more than $100 million in debt.

The board could submit recommendations to Hinckley, but she would not be obligated to follow them or be compelled to explain her decisions at the board's quarterly meetings.

Hinckley instead would have to hold monthly public forums to keep Gary residents apprised of what's happening in their school district.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said she was grateful to have worked with its chairman, state Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen, and state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville, on the changes.

However, Tallian said she still cannot support the legislation as it undermines an elected body in Gary and separately hands over Muncie Community Schools to be run by Ball State University.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.