By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
While Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley and her firm enjoy a $6.2 million contract Gary Schools, that are costly to operate, remain facing closures, while leaving parents to worry about the academic futures of their children.
It’s a problem that’s nothing new to Gary Schools, where instead of giving money to the district in 2011, the state gave $9 million to EdisonLearning to run struggling Roosevelt Career Academy. And when the storied, predominately Black school still received “F” grades in the subsequent years, EdisonLearning was signed to a new five-year contract worth nearly $4 million. Now Hinckley and her firm Gary School Recovery LLC are reaping fat paychecks while the district is struggling financially. While the district has often been accused of financial mismanagement, questions remain as to whether the state is doing the same thing in light of its decision to pay Hinckley loads of money which could be used to help struggling schools stay afloat and reduce the district’s debts of over $100 million.
The questions come as parents express growing concern about the future of Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, a school that was once ranked by U.S. News and World Report as “one of the best performing high schools” in the country.
Hinckley is the emergency manager whom the state gave sole authority in July to make financial and academic decisions to reduce the district’s $104 million debts. To cut costs, she closed Watson School Academy for Boys before the start of the school year. Now, more school closures may follow and parents fear Wirt-Emerson is next on the list.
Nearly two weeks ago, Hinckley told the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board that a high school could likely close because they are too expensive to run because the student enrollment doesn’t justify keeping them open.
Hinckley said school closings would only take place after community forums. But to parents the writing is on the wall, because forum or not, Hinckley has the power as the emergency manager to close any school. Some expressed their concern on Facebook.
“I spent the first 25 years of my career as a teacher at the Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts,” said Larry Brewer.
Another Facebook user, Malachi Moore said, “This is such bad news. We’re practically in the negative digits when it comes to school counts. And the more schools leave, the less people want to move here, and they already don’t want to move here.”
Some Facebook users were in favor of combining Wirt Emerson with West Side Leadership Academy. But while concerns linger, Hinckley, and her firm’s future are certain.
On October 10, the state approved a two-year contract with Hinckley and her firm for $6.25 million. The contract includes the opportunity for performance-based incentives totaling $1.45 million. If academic achievement improves in grades 3-8, Hinckley could earn an additional $100,000.
And if the contract is extended a third year, Hinckley could earn an additional $2.75 million and $950,000 in performance incentives.
But questions remain as to whether the large contract or big incentives could be put to better use by directing more funds to the district. By the time EdisonLearning’s contract expires with Roosevelt, $14 million will have been spent on that turnaround effort without any substantial improvement or nothing to justify the large contract.
Gary school administrators have long complained to state officials that the district is underfunded and needs help.
“It makes sense if many people are sending their kids to open enrollment schools outside of Gary, like Hammond,” said Rebecca Rivas, a Facebook user. Not sure if that’s the case but that’s one way it could make sense.”