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Hammond mayor responds to residents' anger over planned school closures

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. responds to the school board's vote to close three elementary schools.
screenshot from Go Hammond Facebook video
Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. responds to the school board's vote to close three elementary schools.

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. is largely blaming state leadership for the planned closure of three of the city's elementary schools.

"You know, a lot of people move to Hammond from Illinois, and they're perplexed. 'What's going on here? I like the low taxes, but I want teachers and I want schools.' You came to the wrong state. This state doesn't value public education, and that's a fact," McDermott said Wednesday during a Facebook Live event responding to the closures.

The mayor called on candidates for governor to help fund Hammond's schools. "They're not talking about it. They're talking about, 'Oh, we need more counselors.' Yeah, we need more counselors, but we need more teachers, too," McDermott said. "We don't need counselors, Suzanne Crouch, we need teachers!"

The mayor said his office was inundated with phone calls from residents angry over the planned closures. He stressed that he has no control over the School City of Hammond and its elected school board.

Still, he voiced his support for Superintendent Scott Miller and blamed state leaders for creating a system that causes school districts to rely on property tax referenda for funding. He said last year's failed referendum renewal was a chance to try to avoid closures and layoffs.

"I had a sign in my yard," McDermott said. "I publicly campaigned because I knew if this doesn't pass, there's going to be hell to pay. Schools are going to have to shut down."

At the same time, the mayor defended his role in bringing a charter school to Hammond, arguing that there weren't many other options at the time to stop residents from leaving for other communities.

McDermott also took some aim at the Hammond School Board itself, saying he was concerned by the level of dysfunction. "It's embarrassing what's going on between the five Hammond School Board members," McDermott said. "It's absolutely mortifyingly embarrassing. It's bad for business, and they need to get their stuff together."

McDermott warned that School City of Hammond is in jeopardy of a state takeover, especially if board members and school administrators are unable to work together.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.