When House Bill (HB) 1315 was brought to our attention, I’ve been warning Hoosiers that Republican lawmakers’ insistence to remove local control from school boards will lead to additional school takeovers in Indiana beyond that of just Gary and Muncie.
HB 1315 uses the power of the state to dismantle the locally-elected school board in Muncie. The bill further prohibits our school board in Gary from meeting publicly more than once every three months. This is an unprecedented attack on voting rights in Indiana. There is no end to the state permanently cutting off voters and limiting communication with local officials overseeing community schools. This bill lays the groundwork for future state takeovers of local school corporations. There are 14 school districts that meet the same criteria the bill author cites as the justification for taking over Muncie: declining enrollment, increasing debt and having a “C” grade. Legislators from districts that they don’t represent will be taking over community schools that are not failing. There is nothing in any bill or state law that keeps the legislature from coming after additional school districts and further disenfranchising voters in Indiana.
In fact, these takeovers are happening despite the fact that the law already has a path for improvement for struggling schools. Both Gary and Muncie were assigned emergency managers by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board, a group identified by law to assist financially struggling school districts. The emergency manager for Gary has reduced the corporation’s deficit by $12 million. In just six months the Muncie Emergency Manager has improved the corporation’s financial situation by almost $4 million. In a recent op-ed by State Senators Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) and Eric Bassler (R-Washington), attempting to justify these big government takeovers, cited financial information about Gary and Muncie that is over a year old and doesn’t take into account the presence of either emergency manager. The Republicans trying to take over our community are intentionally ignoring the current status of the Gary and Muncie school corporations. They are making false assumptions based on the past, and not giving current and relevant information that would show HB 1315 is not needed.
As if losing the right to vote in a local election wasn’t bad enough, HB 1315 also harms our teachers that have sacrificed to improve the financial status of our schools and worked hard to improve academics for our kids. This bill allows teachers to be fired at the beginning of the school year causing a disruption in classrooms. It also removes all rights from teachers to collectively bargain for salaries and benefits.
With Gary and Muncie showing so much progress, it is apparent that both school corporations are on a path to recovery. A recovery that is completely ignored by the authors of this bill. Why don’t we allow these emergency managers to do the jobs they were hired to do, that current data show they are doing well, and let our communities maintain full access to their right to vote? With this significant progress, why else would Statehouse Republicans so adamantly want this bill to pass if it isn’t to spread the influence of the state to intervene in local matters?
This is why I still believe that your school will be next.