Mayor urges local control of Roosevelt be returned to Gary school district
By Giavonni Nickson
The Indiana State Board of Education recently hosted a community meeting to discuss the fate of Roosevelt and how it fits into the scope of a Gary’s educational landscape.
Indiana State Board of Education Representative Tony Walker said he believes the state should terminate the takeover and return full control of Roosevelt College and Career Academy to the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC).
The Gary Common Council recently developed a resolution for returning schools to local control with plans to approach Indiana’s General Assembly.
“When Roosevelt was taken over by the state many expected the school to improve academically, but that did not happen,” said State Representative Vernon G. Smith. “The state should stay out of the education of local schools.”
In harsh criticism of EdisonLearning Smith said, “They have not proven themselves to be worthy of any praise.”
With a drive to transition Roosevelt out of state board of education intervention, a clear vision of the school’s future vision remains uncertain as evidenced by complex debates over whether or not the school and its building can be saved.
Walker explained the state board’s vision to build a brand-new state of the art high school in Gary instead of sinking money by rehabilitating old buildings. Walker suggests the new high school be developed in partnership with a regional university campus. Ideally the school would be located somewhere near the IU Northwest.
EdisonLearning outlined another vision with a proposal to save Roosevelt through the creation of Theodore Roosevelt R.I.S.E.
R.I.S.E, which stands for renewable industries for sustainable energy, would be a tuition-free public charter school focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education with a local governing Board of Directors.
The local board would control the school’s governance structure, management, and goals. R.I.S.E would take up residence at the current Roosevelt building site.
Earlier this year GCSC assessed the building repair costs needed to get students back to their home campus.
Roosevelt College & Career Academy Principal Joshua Bachelor refers GCSC’s nearly $10 million cost estimate as a “patchwork” estimate.
EdisonLearning estimates over $25 million in building repairs needed to renovate the space and make it into a state of the art facility. The proposed renovations would take approximately 12 to 18 months to complete.
According to EdisonLearning Regional General Manager Marshall Emerson, Edison Learning is working to secure funds through an investment loan from a minority owned capital investment group out of Atlanta, Georgia.
EdisonLearning proposed a 15-25-year long term lease with GCSC for the Roosevelt building. At the end of the long-term lease, the proposal states that the building would be returned to the district.
State Representative Vernon G. Smith spoke strongly against the R.I.S.E proposal, “I’m opposed to the charter school.”
Smith attacked Edison Learning’s R.I.S.E plan and expressed suspicion over their intent and capability to help save the school after years of ushering its decline.
“They have not been productive. Why trust them to move forward with a plan,” said Smith. “I am opposed to any further efforts to partner with anyone outside this community because I think we have the know how to do it ourselves.”
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson agreed, “Let’s turn it back over to local control where people have the knowledge, desire, and passion to do what needs to be done.”
A Crusader investigation in December revealed that the state paid EdisonLearning over $22 million from 2012 to 2016 while little to no academic progress was achieved among Roosevelt students. EdisonLearning was still awarded another contract in 2017 in a deal that could push its earnings beyond $31 million.
At the meeting, community members voiced concerns that EdisonLearning’s new proposal diverted focus from the immediate issues with students.
Displaced Roosevelt are currently housed at the Gary Area Career Center but will not be able to stay there after this academic year. A few weeks ago, cold temperatures prevented students from having classes as some classrooms are without heat. Gary residents demanded immediate action to improve the academic trajectory for the students.
Outraged 1984 Roosevelt alumna Mary Cossey, charged Bachelor and EdisonLearning CEO Thom Jackson with questions about the current school year and the academic fate of Roosevelt students.
“What is the plan for our kids for the rest of this year,” said Cossey.
Bachelor said,” Making sure the classrooms in the bay area are heated for the winter months is a top priority. The work on heating those classrooms would begin soon.”
Bachelor did not provide a start date for heating repairs. He said, “Yes we have a plan, but did not provide any concrete timelines.