By Abrahm Hurt
INDIANAPOLIS — Senate Democrats say a bill that is supposed to prevent school corporations from falling into financial distress could allow the state to take over school districts across Indiana.
House Bill 1315 allows the state to appoint emergency managers and replace elected school boards with appointed advisory committees in districts facing financial difficulty. Currently, the bill targets Gary, which has more than $100 million in debt, and Muncie schools.
Dozens of Gary rallied at the Statehouse on Thursday morning to show they were against their school corporation being taken over by the state.
The bill would convert Gary’s school board to an advisory board while it would allow Ball State University to take control of Muncie schools. In addition, the legislation would put in place a new system to identify other schools that could be heading for the same kind of financial problems that have hurt Gary and Muncie.
Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said the Republican supermajority is attempting to completely eliminate the voice of the people he represents. Republicans control 41 of 50 seats in the Senate and 70 of 100 seats in the House
“The state is telling our local, elected officials they can’t make decisions, and they can’t hold meetings to update our community, taking away our voice and our vote,” he said.
Melton said the bill is not necessary because of Senate Enrolled Act 567, which created an emergency manager to oversee the Gary school corporation eight months ago.
“Despite teachers in the community taking positive action over the last year to address financial issues, HB 1315 removed the voice of local Gary residents from policymaking,” he said. “I’m calling on the governor and Republicans in the legislature to respect Gary, respect Gary residents, respect their right to vote for everyone living in the city of Gary.”
Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said her schools are not being affected today, but she said the bill sets a dangerous precedent for all Indiana.
“I want to ask, is your school next? Is my school next?” she said during a press conference. “We need to know this.”
Tallian said the Muncie schools are being taken over because it is a C-grade school with declining enrollment and increasing debt. She said there are 14 additional school corporations fitting that criteria.
“When I asked, ‘Is your school next?’ that’s real,” she said. “Based on their criterion, how many others are they going to do?”
The bill will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 1.
FOOTNOTE: Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.