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Gary school closing plan draws fire

Gary Teachers UniPresident Joseph Zimmerman talks about proposed school closings community hearing Thursday West Side Leadership Academy. | Carole Carlson/Sun-Times

Gary Teachers Union President Joseph Zimmerman talks about proposed school closings at a community hearing Thursday at the West Side Leadership Academy. | Carole Carlson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 1, 2014 6:40AM



GARY — With passion and emotion, staff members, students, parents and principals from schools being considered for closure by the school board pleaded their case Thursday night at a public hearing.

The board is considering closing Brunswick, Bailly and Webster elementary schools, Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School and Lincoln Achievement Center, a school for special-needs students, due to declining enrollment in the school system and a nearly $12 million budget deficit.

Some upset parents threatened to pull their children out of the school district because of the moves and closings. One student said moving students to other schools is hard on them.

“I know what it’s like being pushed to another school where teachers don’t want me,” said Dwayne Hunter, who’s now a senior at Roosevelt College and Career Academy, adding that the state takeover of Roosevelt was a positive step.“I’m more prepared for college now at Roosevelt. Our competition isn’t the charter schools, it’s other countries.”

Bailly students and staff members argued that the estimated $500,000 cost to make repairs at Bailly is outweighed by the transportation and moving costs of a closing and the academic risk of relocating students across the city.

In January, pipes burst at Bailly during the frigid holiday break, forcing the relocation of students to Watson Boys Academy. Now, the district administration is proposing to close Bailly and keep Bailly students at Watson.

Bailly students Angelo Winfield and Gregory Curry offered a list of amenities that Bailly has but Watson does not.

“There’s no art room, music room, regular gym, dual-service lunch line, library with 20 computers, nurse’s room, security cameras,” Angelo said.

“I have no more move left in me,” Bailly Principal Lucille Washington said, citing seven moves in her Gary schools career. “I’ve always been on the end of the have-nots.”

Webster Principal Gina Watts-Ellison said she understands the physical problems with her school, but closing it still hurts.

“If they have the opportunity to go to a better building, I’m all for it,” she said of her students.

Board president Rosie Washington said the board is continuing to work on the closings, and the current plan “is just a proposal.” Washington said the board will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday in a work session at the administration center to talk about the planned closings.

Brunswick parent Dawn Jones criticized the board for waiting so long to announce the proposed closings.

“It’s not like you didn’t know there was a financial problem. This should have been done a long time ago,” she said.

District officials say another major factor driving the need to close schools is slumping revenue, compounded by only a 42 percent property tax collection rate.

They said the district ended the 2006-07 school year with a $13.3 million budget surplus, but with drastic revenue declines, it ended 2011-12 with a $14.7 million deficit. During that same period, enrollment dropped by 5,342 students.



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