Gary schools superintendent: ‘You can’t pay what you don’t have’
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent March 22, 2014 9:24PM
Sandra Patrick, an evangelist with Bethel Temple and Church of God in Christ, addresses the crowd during a question-and-answer period after Gary Community School Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt's presentation. The Gary School Board voted Monday to accept a "high-risk" designation for the district. | Michelle L. Quinn/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 24, 2014 10:18AM
GARY — The Gary Community School Corp.’s decision to accept a “high-risk” designation from the state will give it greater flexibility and some help it clearly needs, the district superintendent said Saturday.
The designation is not a takeover by the Indiana Department of Education, Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt told a packed Gary Career Center cafeteria. Rather, the district is asking for help it previously didn’t have. The School Board voted 4-3 on Monday to accept the designation, which means the Indiana Department of Education will manage all of the district’s federal funds.
In a letter to Pruitt, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she based the designation on the district’s financial instability and low academic performance. Thirteen of the district’s 16 schools are in the “D” or “F” category, and it’s also having trouble paying its bills, including NIPSCO and many of its vendors, who have in turn cut off service to the school district.
One of the bills that hasn’t been paid is to the teachers: Pruitt said the Gary district has paid into neither the teacher’s retirement fund nor Social Security because the district has lost $100 million in the last four years to lost property tax revenue.
“You can’t pay what you don’t have,” Pruitt said.
The buildings have also suffered, some not having major repairs in decades, she said.
Additionally, Pruitt said, a high percentage of the 9,121 students in the district — 1,692, or 20 percent — have been designated as “special needs,” yet they have not had the proper support since 2006.
But not all is lost, Pruitt said, as evidenced by McCullough Girls Academy, which received a five-star rating despite the obstacles.
The status will mean more opportunities for grants; Pruitt announced all 13 schools received $50,000 Title I needs-assessment grants that must be used before the end of the summer. The corporation also applied to Federal Emergency Management Agency for money to repair Bailey School.
Collaboration, however, will be key in bringing financial stability to the schools and raising to a “C” average the accountability grade for two consecutive years. Since it has two years to achieve the feat, Gary schools would like to see more input from the community and business community alike as well as the establishment of a “vendor foundation for technical assistance” that would help find new money.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the crowd she supports the designation and that her office will do what it can, but that the city has no authority to take over the school corporation.
Former School Board member Barbara Leek remained dubious about the plan. Based on information she had read, she wondered if the designation is a federal one instead of state. She is also concerned that vendors who were supposed to be paid from federal funds have not received money.
“We approved those contracts. Why haven’t they been paid?” Leek said.