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State labels Gary schools “high risk”

Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt discusses district's new 'high risk' state status during special School Board meeting. Board member Robert Campbell

Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt discusses the district's new "high risk" state status during a special School Board meeting. Board member Robert Campbell, right, listens. | Carole Carlson/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 18, 2014 8:16AM



GARY — The troubled Gary Community School Corp. is now considered a “high risk” district and its federal funding will be managed by the Indiana Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz issued the designation last month because of the district’s lingering academic, financial and infrastructure problems.

Thirteen of the district’s 16 schools are failing and one school, the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, was taken over by the state in 2011.

The school board held a special meeting Monday to digest the letter and it voted 4-3 to accept the designation. Some board members, however, weren’t happy with the high-risk title.

“We have issues with our achievement and our infrastructure, we certainly do. Just yielding our control to Indianapolis, in my opinion, won’t make this district any better,” said board member Nellie Moore who opposed accepting the designation.

“It’s not a takeover, it’s a partnership,” said board member Antuwan Clemons. “It’s a way to maximize our federal funds and to deal with some issues we have in partnership with local universities, and the mayor’s office to turn this district around.”

The designation is not without precedent. The state began dictating the operation of Gary’s special education department three years ago because of the district’s high rate of expulsion and suspension of special education students and the lack of individual education plan updates.

In her letter, Ritz criticized the district’s ability to manage its money, citing the overspending of $17 million from the transportation budget.

Under the at-risk designation, the state will manage the district’s federal funds from Title 1 and Title 2 programs, school lunch programs and federal block grant money.

Supt. Cheryl Pruitt supported the designation saying it will provide a greater flexibility to use federal funds to increase student achievement with the state’s technical backing.

Pruitt said a number of factors led to the district’s troubles including high poverty and student mobility rates, low tax collections, restrictive state policies, and the advent of charter schools that have become popular with parents.

Pruitt said the state could also send outreach workers to help with cleaning, painting and professional development for teachers.

Board member LaBrenda King-Smith said the district can use the state resources.

“Either we can hide our head in the sand or face reality... if we walk away and ignore that we have serious challenges, I believe we are not dealing with reality.”



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