Rep. Vernon G. Smith fights for financial help and assurances as state takeover of Gary schools advances

April 6, 2017 Vernon G. Smith

For immediate release:
April 6, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) offered four amendments Thursday to Senate Bill 567 (SB 567), the state takeover of Gary schools, to try to ensure the state offered needed grant money and provided protections for the school district and community.

“I am greatly concerned about the state’s takeover of our schools and where that is going to lead us,” said Dr. Smith, who is also an education professor at Indiana University Northwest. “I offered four amendments to get some guarantees for the academic integrity of our district and to receive education grants that we desperately need. The Republican majority said no to all four amendments.”

One of the amendments would have allowed the distressed unit appeal board (DUAB) to provide grant funding to the Gary Community School Corporation in overcoming financial problems. The grants would have come from the rainy day fund or the general fund.

“With the state takeover, it was my desire and expectation that the state allocate additional dollars so the school district could function,” said Dr. Smith. “Instead, we have just a takeover while we lose control of the financial aspects of running the district as well the academic ones. My plea fell upon ears of stone that showed no compassion for our community as this amendment and the other three went down to defeat along party-line votes.”

Another Smith amendment would have prohibited the emergency manager of the district school corporation from dissolving the district or making recommendations concerning the geographic boundaries of the district, which could mean allocating portions of it to other school corporations or the attendance area of any school within the current Gary Community School Corporation.

Dr. Smith offered a third amendment that would have restored academic control to the superintendent and the local school board. And the fourth amendment dealt with the DUAB board and emergency manager. That amendment would have required them to consult and work with the Indiana Department of Education on matters involving distressed schools, because, as Dr. Smith argued, any fiscal decisions that are made directly impact academic and instructional programs.

SB 567 passed on third reading in the House Thursday. The vote was 77-19. With reservations, Dr. Smith voted for the bill.

“We lost local control and didn’t gain anything,” said Smith. “There is no help with funding. We will have an appointed, not an elected, official making decisions that will affect our community’s schools for generations to come. And we have no guarantees that the Gary Community School Corporation’s boundaries will not be torn apart to be given to other communities, while disrupting the lives and educational careers of thousands of our students.

”I tried my best to make this bill better,” lamented Dr. Smith. “One gets the feeling that those from wealthier communities don’t understand the challenges our community faces and, sadly, I am beginning to believe they really don’t care.”