Students, parents hit hard by vote to close 6 schools
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 June 4, 2014 11:32PM
Students leave a Girls Scouts meeting Wednesday at Brunswick Elementary, one of six Gary schools slated to close. | Carole Carlson~Sun-Times Media
Gary schools closing
Watson Boys Academy
Lincoln Achievement Center
Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School
Lew Wallace STEM Academy
Updated: July 6, 2014 9:51AM
GARY — Dorthie Riley’s family hit school-closing trifecta on Tuesday.
The Gary School Board voted to close six schools, and Riley has children in three of them.
She stood outside Brunswick Elementary School Wednesday afternoon with her niece, Dazania Killines, 10, and lamented Brunswick’s closing and the 600 students who will be forced to move to other schools next school year. Riley cares for Dazania and her late sister’s four other children.
“There are 600 babies here, and they’re going to split them up,” said Riley, who thinks Brunswick’s students will be shifted to three other elementary schools.
“I hope it doesn’t close,” Dazania said. “The teachers are good.”
Riley also has a daughter and a nephew at Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School and a niece at Lincoln Achievement Center, both on the closing list.
In addition, the district is closing Webster Elementary School and Lew Wallace STEM Academy, the lone high school on the city’s south side.
School officials say they have a $27.3 million budget hole to erase, brought on by past overspending, a low property tax collection rate, property tax caps and a drastically declining enrollment that’s now down to 7,647 students.
It’s unclear how much the district will save by closing six schools. No one was able to answer that question after Tuesday’s school board vote, and Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt couldn’t identify a number either on Wednesday.
The cost is a high one for Latoria Carter’s daughter, DeAndria, a junior at Lew Wallace. Carter said her daughter hoped to spend her senior year at Lew Wallace next year and graduate. Now, she’s looking for another school.
“She doesn’t want to stay in Gary,” said Carter, a 1993 Wallace grad, as she waited to pick up DeAndria from school. “I’m disappointed. I was counting on my daughter graduating from here. She’s heartbroken. In a minute, they’re not going to have Gary high schools.”
Back at Brunswick, Assistant Principal Dwayne Belle said teachers and staff tried to keep an upbeat attitude Wednesday.
“We tried to be steadfast, optimistic and hopeful and keep our focus on the students,” he said.
In all, about 2,200 students will have to find a new school. Dunbar-Pulaski and Lew Wallace are on state probation and face state sanctions. Pruitt said one of those schools could reopen as a citywide middle school, depending on how the state handles the sanctions.
After Roosevelt High School landed on state probation, the state took the school over, but that’s not likely under the new state schools chief, Glenda Ritz.
Because of the Roosevelt takeover, state dollars that would have gone to the Gary schools are now going to EdisonLearning, the private company selected by the state to run Roosevelt.
On Wednesday, the state board of education approved a 2014-15 allocation of $1.19 million to EdisonLearning for Roosevelt. In the past three years, the state has given EdisonLearning $3.79 million to operate Roosevelt.
Meanwhile, the Gary district lost $13 million last year to property tax caps, more than any other school district in the state, according to the Indiana Department of Government Finance. Overall, the Gary school system lost 83 percent of its $15.7 million tax levy to the caps, which were permanently enacted into the state constitution by voters in 2010.