L-r: Brandon Comer, Gary teachers union president GlenEva Dunham, and Sen. Eddie Melton

Gary school district escapes another payless Friday

Contributed By:The 411 News

Remaining payrolls in March still an issue

Approval of payroll vouchers are such a routine matter in school board meetings, so routine that their approval is taken for granted. But their processing is the main reason school boards and other municipal entities like them meet in public on a regular basis. It is the board’s duty to authorize those payments, except when there is no money.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the Gary Board of School Trustees couldn’t approve the March 3 payroll vouchers. The board delayed approval of Friday’s payroll until Wednesday, board president Rosie Washington said, “… until we hear from Sen. Eddie Melton.” And she asked board members to pray.

Payless Fridays have been a boogie man in the financially struggling school district. The biggest scare came in mid-February when Jack Martin, the district’s state appointed financial advisor told the board, “We can make the last payroll in February, but we’re broke. I’m not sure about March.”

Wednesday night, Sen. Melton assured the board that school staff would be paid on March 3. With him at the table was Brandon Comer, a public finance specialist who explained the district had been granted a 12-day loan of $1.5 million to cover salaries. School districts usually make short-term loans to meet obligations like payrolls, but not the Gary school district. Its debt is large and it is in arrears for repayment on past loans.

“When I learned the district was in this financial situation, it struck me to my core,” Comer said. “Not only am I a product of this corporation, my mom taught here for 30 years.” The loan will be repaid on March 15 when the district receives its next tuition support disbursement from the state. “We got a lot of no’s early on. As we started telling the story of the district, more became interested.”

Melton could not guarantee remaining payrolls in March would be met, saying a solution is being sought downstate to finish out the school year. “For the first time, we had every single department in the state in one room last week that impacts education, including the DUAB. The mayor was also there … to wrap our arms around the Gary school district.”

Melton said Gary is not alone and other school districts face similar problems. “But Gary is distinct. The takeaway from that meeting is the state has to take more of a role in addressing the school corporation’s financial situation.”

The senator made an emphatic request to the board, “I encourage you, from now until the end of the current school year, not to make any additional financial commitments outside of academics because people are watching.”

Story Posted:03/02/2017

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