Gary Schools- Community Has Voice But No Vote- State has no interest

State complicit in lack of accountability

For Gary, elected school board and local government have voice but no vote as they serve on boards. This came about after years of financial distress, mismanagement, and no accountability from previous administrations. In 2017 Dr. Peggy Hinckley  and MGT Consulting were chosen to control the schools. Their new entity, Recovery Management LLC  has near total control of the schools. She is required to report her plans and decisions at the Distressed Unit Appeals Board meeting, comprised of appointees and three State Legislators on advisory board with no vote.

Dr. Peggy Hinckley et al made necessary and tough decisions in their first nine months- all publicly discussed, earning them a bonus. Just a month ago they received a 200,000 bonus for their plans to submit a financial budgetand have it audited by Summer. Even though the SBOA could not audit as numbers and data were missing, and Rep.Vernon Smith’s questions were met with “we can get those numbers to you” the binus was unanimouly approved.

In June, Dr.Hinckley chose what sschools buildings were for sale- most were closed. Yet one property- Bethune Early Childhood Development Center was listed even though it continues to educate over 500 pre-school students. Dr. Hinckley stated it would be shuttered at the end of  2019 school year.

Which was news to most of us. Prior meetings and reports had  surveys  and charts  and financial outlooks. A High School was closed, middle schools merged, new bus contracts hammered out,  old contracts with secretaries abruptly ended, online auctions of property valuable art pieces ( no, not the  hundreds not seen for decades  since ” stored” somewhere in FIB),  and more.  Not mentioned –  Bethune Early Childhood Development Center. Odd.

  •  In the past 6 years enrollment fell  drastically in every grade yet Preschool  increased. Bethune Early Childhood Development Center averages 525 and maintains a waiting list.

  • It is funded entirely by Title One, the facility and classrooms are designed for 3-4 yr. olds.

  • It  offers traditional, Special Ed and Montessori curriculums, met   Title One educational standards.

  • Gary Public schools through Bethune  received numerous grants  to implement and maintain pre-school programs. Late 2016 Eli Lilly awarded $50K for various programs and to shore up the roof. Other recent grants were to be used to enhance playground and classrooms.

  • With free bus service, breakfast and lunch, and choice of morning or afternoon sessions , Bethune fills a need in our community.

  • All too often minority communities  encounter disparity in education , healthcare, and employment.  Bethune is good news, and  enhances  the district.

  • Bad news: its past tense.

The shuttering of Bethune at end of 2019 was mentioned in passing in a June news article for property auctions. What has not been mentioned , even in passing,  was the decision to cut enrollment by at least half  and end  bus service  for  this year.

Reality is that Bethune now offers  only full day sessions with no bus service .At least 250 primarily  African American students,  title one eligible  in a community already affected by  cutbacks, have no school to attend.

None of this has been reported b y Dr. Hin ckley. No one on DUAB, no legislator, no elected offical has yet to ASK  Dr. Hincklley to put in writing what she decided. And to ask her why she omitted these changes.

Only now, after school began, are  most parents and community learning the details . Some are unable to honor registration without bus service or the ability of half-day sessions.  ( FYI – the GCSC Bethune website still  has  false information)

Since early June  I have looked for reports, watched meetings via livestream, and inquired. I first  messaged  Dr. Hinckley and DUAB- perhaps I missed the memo. I contacted local reporters to see if they covered any  discussion. My sister has taught at Bethune for seemingly forever .Like  many teachers she is focused on the students who will be in front of her, and like many siblings ignored me.

I asked local advocates, Alexa, and Siri.  No response. So I emailed the boards and legislators again.  Thus far,  no documents to be found for Bethune,  no response from DUAB , or the three State Legislators on the Advisory Board: Rep. Vernon Smith, Rep. Milo Smith, or Senator Eric Bassler .

I realize the legislators have no power regarding public schools in Gary, but I had hoped  they would use their voice .The dismantling of public schools , in particular Gary, continues. Such an enrollment cut by  administration  at least deserves a byline before the bonus. This decision affects the entire District.

Of course there is the chance a document will suddenly appear.  Maybe Monday  as DUAB  on Friday announced  meeting in Indianapolis. .(Their monthly meeting was just held Aug 3rd.) – The agenda is only Gary Schools- hopefully it explains Bethune, or  June bus contract included Bethune students knowing they would not be serviced. ++

Complaining? When the community showed up for a public meeting to discuss  Maya energy LLC and  the Little Calumet River Developments plan to open a solid waste processing facility across the street from  Steel City Academy-  the headlines labeled those  questioning as protestors.  When the community questioned Rep. Harris about his bill to  remove 1/2 mile setback  for all of Gary for  a solid waste land disposal facility ( exact language of bill) that was misinformation by naysayers.

When parents answered Dr. Hinckley’s invitation to a public forum  last week  and asked questions,  they were critics. No. The purpose of having voice  but no vote  demands asking the questions. It is accountability.

BTW, Voice but no vote doesn’t apply in November.  Hopefully accountability survives.

++ No one has yet questioned Dr. Hinckley to be accountable. September 13th  DUAB meets again,

++ September 27-  No one from the State Board of Education, or DUAB, or  Department of Education has asked for  the accountability  under the Indiana Code.