“You have failed to maintain our buildings, you have failed to take care of our teachers and you have failed our children” Hammond Parent Amy Radolak
September 4, 2018-School Board Members felt some of the heat that teachers and students have been feeling in the classroom lately as parents and teachers lined up to complain about lack of transparency with regard to issues of building maintenance included a problem with lead in the water. Director of Building and Grounds James Burgraff began the meeting with a presentation regarding the lead in the drinking water but refused to even name the “consultant” who performed the testing. No information was provided regarding the level of lead in the water and Burgraff was forced to admit at one point that they didn’t even clearly tell parents which drinking fountains had been taken out of service. Superintendent Dr. Walter Watkins statement that bottled water may not be safe was met with nearly uniform disbelief. Those in attendance learned that a second test, conducted at the same time as the first, is expected shortly. Board members promised to release the full report at the time the second test comes back.
Hammond teacher Lupe Ramirez stated “I love my kids . . .but I don’t know how I look at them and tell them they are supposed to learn when it is 92 degrees, how I deliver the student rights and staff rights . . .when it says they have the right to a safe environment when it’s 92 degrees.” Ramirez went on to state that they students had to undergo testing when the classroom was very hot. “I can’t in good conscience continue to do it without saying something.” Resident Efrain Valdez addressed both the water issue and the hot classroom issue. “Lafayette has no air, you sent three 5 gallon buckets of water for 400 kids plus staff, that is not acceptable. About the bottled water, it should be issued” Valdez continued.
Teachers complained that they were promised a raise in July if the referendum passed but Hammond Teacher Federation President Pat O’Rourke took to the podium to disagree with that contention. “We can’t legally negotiate until September 15” O’Rourke stated regarding the contract which expired on June 30, 2018. Resident Paul Buck took to the podium to ask if O’Rourke ever repaid the money which he was ordered to pay by the Indiana State Board of Accounts. “You cannot almost ghost payroll” Buck stated “we need a federal investigation” he continued referring to the payment of O’Rourke as a teacher while he was performing union duties which was referred to Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter and the Indiana Attorney General by the Indiana State Board of Accounts in a 2012 Audit. At the time, the School Board admitted they had laid off 100 other teachers. (See the full audit report below).
Residents and teachers also complained about the lack of functioning air conditioning in the schools. The lack of air conditioning is exacerbated by the shortage of drinking water according to those in attendance. The crowd broke into applause on several instances after speaker after speaker demanded transparency. “I think as parents we are so angry because the School Board sits here you have failed to maintain our buildings, you have failed to take care of our teachers and you have failed our children” stated parent Amy Radolak.
Carlotta Blake-King pointed out that she previously presented the Board with a list of criteria which community members wanted in a new superintendent. “We wanted classroom experience and we wanted Superintendent experience” Blake-King stated. The Gazette has exclusively reported information from a source that the Board has offered the Superintendent position to Dr. Todd Cummings who currently serves as Director of Human Resources for South Bend Community School Corporation. According to Blake-King, none of the criteria presented were met with the Board’s choice.
Three of the five Board Members are up for re-election this year. Cindy Murphy, Deborah White and George Janiec will face off against Manuel Candelaria, Jr, Mary Ellen Slazyk, Tiffany Ross and Carlotta Blake King on the November Ballot.
2012 Special Audit Report