Gary may cut staff rather than close more schools
By Carole Carlson email@example.com April 24, 2013 9:40PM
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:39AM
GARY — As the School Board began the arduous task of closing an $18.4 million budget hole Wednesday, shuttering more schools doesn’t appear to be on the table.
Instead, the administration recommended staff reductions that could cost 175 teachers their jobs and save the district $10.5 million.
Other staff reduction proposals include cutting 15 custodians, 10 clerical staffers, 10 paraprofessionals and 10 Teamster employees.
The district would save about $6.2 million in benefit costs.
The board didn’t take action on the recommendations at the four-hour work session, but by state law, affected teachers must be notified by May 1.
In contrast to the neighboring Lake Ridge Schools, where the School Board voted to close down Grissom Elementary in Black Oak to save $1.7 million, Gary officials don’t favor school closings even though that’s how it closed gaping deficits in the past.
In recent years, Gary has closed several schools as enrollment declined, taking state funding with it. Tax caps, shrinking enrollment and a skimpy tax collection rate of 42 percent have sunk the budget.
On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer Nikita White listed the district’s enrollment at 8,490 students, a drop of almost 700 students from 2011.
While it has closed two high schools in the past, Gary still supports four high schools, including the Roosevelt College and Career Academy, which the state took over last year. It also operates a Career Center and a New Tech High School.
For now, the board is focusing on employee reductions.
“Some decisions may be painful,” White told the board. “It will be a balancing act, what you can live with and without.”
Gary Teacher Union President Joe Zimmerman thinks the teacher layoffs won’t be as high as projected. “Hopefully, it won’t result in larger class sizes,” he said.
Zimmerman said Gary might be hit with an influx of students, if two charter schools close their doors and the district could recall laid-off teachers.