The following is an update from the Hoosier State Press Association and is provided as informational, not as an endorsement of their positions on these bills.

Attention: Publishers

H.B. 1315 will leave communities in the dark when school district is financially challenged.

You can’t handle the truth.

That’s the message H.B. 1315(ss) sends to Hoosiers with a secrecy provision found in Sec. 18 (pages 26 and 27).

H.B. 1315 is among a handful of bills that failed to be passed before the midnight deadline of the regular 2018 General Assembly session. It contains changes to how the Gary and Muncie school districts are operated by the state, which took over control of both districts.

It also sets out guidelines for the Distressed Unit Advisory Board (DUAB) in determining, which school districts are placed on a Watch List (in danger of state takeover) and steps that can be taken by DUAB to turn school districts around to avoid the Watch List – primarily through a corrective action plan created by the school board and DUAB.

For HSPA, It’s disappointing that leadership will move forward with language that keeps a community in the dark when:

DUAB reaches out to a school corporation to determine whether a corrective action plan is necessary;

DUAB determines a corrective action is necessary;

The corrective action plan is created and actions are taken to implement it;

DUAB modifies a district’s proposed corrective action plan; and

Requests are made by a school superintendent of DUAB to modify a corrective action plan.

Sec. 18 makes public records concerning the process confidential and calls for DUAB and school boards to meet in secret during this process.

While HSPA can understand how leadership may feel its hands are tied as to H.B. 1315 language based on the unusual one-day session, there has been no indication that leadership doesn’t agree that the public should be denied the knowledge that DUAB has reached out or is working with its school district leadership. There’s been no indication that the level of secrecy found in H.B. 1315 is excessive and if passed, will be addressed in the 2019 session.

The only rationale given for the secrecy is a stated fear that parents who learn their school district may have financial concerns that need to be addressed will simply move their students to another school district – exacerbating the financial situation, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

HSPA believes this policy sells Hoosier communities short – saying they can’t be trusted to act appropriately if given the knowledge that their school district is facing financial concerns. It doesn’t believe a community will rally around its school district to turn the financial picture around.

The nature of this unusual one day (May 14) special session will preclude amendments to H.B. 1315(ss) or any of the other bills that will be considered, but you may want to talk to your editors and determine whether you want to bring this secrecy language to the attention of your readers.

You may also want to ask primary candidates for the state legislature if they support the need for secrecy in this situation.

If you have any questions, let me know.

Steve Key

Executive Director and General Counsel

Hoosier State Press Association

(317) 624-4427