The Crusader Newspaper Group

Fate of Gary schools hang on referendum

By David Denson, Gary Crusader

The fate of the Gary Schools will be determined on November 8. As Gary voters go to the polls they will be asked to support a referendum which would help to keep the doors open.

A series of measures have been tried to assist the school district, including bringing in a financial consultant to help streamline the district’s budget.

Last year Senator Earline Rogers sponsored legislation especially aimed at helping to stem the fiscal bleeding. Last year she had language put in the Senate budget bill allowing the Gary School Corporation to decide whether to have specialists to come in to help with the finances.

The board hired Jack Martin and Associates after interviewing three candidates suggested by the State Distress Unit and Appeals Board (DUAB). Martin has been working with the School Board to reduce the deficit and concluded that the only way to turn things around was through a referendum.

“On September 23 Martin presented a deficit elimination plan to the Distress Unit Appeals Board and he laid out a plan that showed where they could reduce the expenses and the only plan that could get the Gary School System on solid footing was to pass a referendum,” said Rogers.

After Martin’s presentation Rogers said the chair of the DUAB stated that he hoped the citizens of Gary would get more involved in supporting the referendum and the state would consider that as an indication that the citizens wanted to maintain the Gary school system.

This isn’t the first referendum the school system has tried to get passed. Last year the measure was on the ballot and failed by eleven percent.

Rogers said that Martin suggested the referendum because he believed it to be that best remedy for the current situation.” He has to come up with a way to eliminate the deficit and put the Gary Community School Corporation on a sound fiscal path,” said Rogers.

Rogers said that Martin had suggested three different scenarios but of the three the only viable one was to sponsor a referendum.

She indicated that if it passes it would be for seven years and would be 4.5 percent per one hundred dollars assessed valuation. Rogers said the cost to the homeowner would depend on the size of their home, but she believed that the average amount would be about $70 a year for seven years.

If the referendum fails it could mean the closing down of the Gary schools.

“There were a couple of considerations on the part of DUAB that we may have to dissolve the community school system or consolidate it. Some kids would go to charter schools because of open enrollment. You don’t have to go to a Gary school any more, and the student could end up going to school in Merrillville or Hammond. Either of those options would be without the Gary schools,” said Rogers.

“People in Gary needed to know the thinking of those in Indianapolis, and I think when we got that message and those that hear that message are saying we may not be in support of wanting to say yes to a referendum, but when they think about the consequences that might leave Gary without a public school system, okay then I’m for it,” said Rogers.

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