Two Gary lawmakers are calling for the state to end its contract with the group running the financially distressed Gary Community Schools Corporation.
Sen. Eddie Melton (D-Gary) and Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) say former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s ties to the management firm illustrate a lack of transparency from the state and raise concerns about his potential influence in the recovering district.
Hoosiers voted Bennett out of office after his first term, and critics say it’s because he supported policy changes favoring school vouchers and charter schools. Public education advocates say those changes ultimately and drastically harmed public schools.
Now, Bennett sits on the board of directors for the consulting group tied to the management firm working to fix the Gary schools’ budget, MGT Consulting.
According to the firm, Bennett does not hold any decision making power over the district.
“Dr. Bennett is not and has never been a member of the Emergency Manager team in Gary,” it said in a statement. “He has not and does not engage in the decision-making process for any Gary Emergency Management decisions.”
But Smith says he shouldn’t be involved at all.
“The people are just aghast that he would be association in any way with Gary,” he says.
Smith says the harmful impact of the former state schools chief’s championed policies are especially visible in Gary schools, with voters statewide making their disapproval clear when they rejected Bennett’s re-election bid in 2012 against Democrat Glenda Ritz.
“The majority party that’s in control now won everything, but he was defeated,” he says. “That says a whole lot about what the state thinks about him.”
Smith says he plans to bring the issue directly to the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB).
Melton said in a statement DUAB members failed to share knowledge of Bennett’s position on the consulting firm’s board of directors. He says the state should end the current contract and undergo a “fully transparent process” to replace it.