Gary ponders closing schools to save money
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 February 17, 2014 9:38PM
Lew Wallace High School, Gary. | Sun-Times Media file
Updated: February 18, 2014 2:01AM
GARY — Lew Wallace High School’s days may be numbered under a preliminary downsizing plan that also shutters five other schools as the district struggles to trim a $12.2 million deficit.
The School Board discussed the closing plan as recommended by Cheryl Pruitt at the end of a marathon four-hour working session Monday devoted to district finances.
Pruitt cautioned the closing recommendations were preliminary and will be followed with community forums.
She recommended the district close Lew Wallace and Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School — two schools mired in five straight years of poor academic performance and in danger of a state takeover or drastic action.
Webster Elementary would be closed and its students relocated to the newer Glen Park Academy. The Watson Boys Academy building would be closed, but the program would continue as a school-within-a school at the Bailly Preparatory Academy.
New Tech High School would be relocated from the Gary Career Center to another school.
Beveridge and Jefferson elementaries would be combined, although there wasn’t a recommendation on which building would close.
Pruitt also recommended the district close its administrative Service Center at 620 E. 10th Place and move it into a school.
Declining enrollment, a 42-percent tax collection and dwindling state funding have combined to threaten the solvency of the region’s once-largest school district.
Recently, the Gary Teachers Union filed a grievance over late payments to the state Teacher Retirement Fund. Gary Teachers Union President Joe Zimmerman said Monday the grievance has largely been resolved. The district also fell behind on its payments to the state’s Public Employee Retirement Fund.
Vendors are often stiffed for months at a time as the district rations out its funds.
Pruitt said the school closings could save about $15.2 million in salaries and operating costs, according to preliminary estimates.
Board President Rosie Washington and member Nellie Moore cautioned about moving too fast on the school closings.
“I hope there’s a plan to phase it in and not try to do it all at once from June to August,” said Moore. “I understand the urgency of trying to save money, but we need to do some careful planning.”
The school closings would leave the district with just two high schools for now — the West Side Leadership Academy and the Wirt-Emerson Visual Performing Arts Academy. The Roosevelt College and Career Academy is being operated by the state until 2016.