INDIANAPOLIS — Rescuing troubled school districts in Gary and Muncie might come back to haunt the Indiana General Assembly, members of the House say.
“I project that at least in the case of Gary and potentially in the case of Muncie, we'll be back here in a year or two talking about the fact that we haven't been able to solve the problem,” said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis.
Delaney was critical of a takeover plan that didn't offer more specific evaluations of the rescue plan.
The House voted 77-18 on Thursday to take control of the two Hoosier school districts, moving them out of the hands of local school boards. The bill offers no finances for the districts but sets up an emergency manager to guarantee two years of positive movement by the district.
“You are taking all of the local input out of it,” said Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, who said he would vote for the bill despite initial concern.
Gary, where school officials want the state to help, has a short-term debt of $19 million with a long-term debt nearing more than $100 million. Muncie, which is not asking to be declared in distress, has a short-term $51.6 million bond debt.
Democrats charged that Republican-led policies have created turmoil in schools, citing the voucher system and placing property tax caps on schools.
Even the wealthy Carmel school district is asking voters next month to replace an expiring referendum by bringing in $14.5 million a year to avoid program and employee cuts, one legislator noted.
“We have put our school corporations in this situation,” said Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis.
Others in the House suggested that the action helps establish procedures for local districts to understand the takeover path.
"It's not just how we impact Gary and Muncie but we begin to build a process," said Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers.
"We don't want to voluntarily pursue these kinds of things, but when they do come to us, we need to take action," he said. "You reach a certain point where they are in our interest and that's where we are today."
Opponents, however, cited a lack of specifics in detailing how a district moves on after a takeover.
"There are precedents being set here that we have to wrestle with,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City. “If we don’t then slowly and surely our state is going to be taken over schools.”
It is likely the bill will go to a conference committee this week where differences involving grants and academic takeover are to be hammered out.