Smith: Gary school referendum crucial for children and teachers

IBLC, News & Media

INDIANAPOLIS - The column below was written by State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) and was submitted today to area media outlets:

In these unprecedented times, there is one thing the Gary community can do for its students and teachers, and that is to vote ‘Yes’ in the upcoming referendum for Gary Community Schools this November. 

As a member of the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB), I have had a front row seat during the discussions surrounding Gary schools. It is my opinion that we need to redirect the attention being paid to reducing debts and focus more on how this referendum could advance academic achievement and empower teachers and students.

Gary's number one priority should be ensuring bright futures for our kids. If we pass this referendum, more money will be available for the extracurricular programs and career education that are necessary for bolstering Gary’s next generation. As of now, many cuts have been made to these opportunities because of a lack of funding. 

Not only that, but the teachers in Gary Community Schools have not seen a raise in more than a decade. By continuing to be complacent with the same old salary since 2010, we risk losing valuable teachers to neighboring charter and private schools. At a time when teachers are already carrying a heavy burden with the unexpected addition of virtual teaching and safety concerns due to COVID-19, it’s the least we can do to lighten their load. This referendum could generate close to $1 million for teacher raises - a sum that could do wonders for our burned-out educators. The first million dollars generated by the referendum would go to teacher raises.

Officials in control of Gary Schools have said that they will not provide debt relief until Gary helps itself - and that starts with this referendum. If we can improve students’ lives with more extracurriculars and teachers’ lives with pay raises, we will see enrollments numbers go up as well as grades. If these developments remain steady for two years, Gary can gain control back from the state. 

I know this may seem like just another added expense to Gary residents; however, the cost of this referendum comes down to only 20 cents a day - less than what many people spend on cigarettes or coffee. Twenty cents a day could give children life-changing opportunities. Twenty cents a day could give teachers the raises they’ve desperately needed for 10 years. Twenty cents a day could help us get Gary Schools out from under state control and back on solid financial ground.

I have no children, I’m not employed by the school corporation and I do not benefit directly from this referendum - I’m supporting it because it’s the right thing to do. I’m willing to pay the money to give our kids the best chance at success, and I hope the rest of my community will agree and use their voices at the polls in November.

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