Contributed By: The 411 News
With the school superintendent in the hospital and the financial advisor checking in by phone, both were far away from harsh criticism they would have faced if they had been in the same room with school board members at Tuesday’s night’s session.
An expired insurance policy for school buildings and deeper cuts were on the table for the board that has four members experiencing on-the-job training.
School board president Rosie Washington had read Supt. Cheryl Pruitt’s message at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ecumenical Service on Monday and Pruitt missed Tuesday’s working session on the budget. Gary teachers union president GlenEva Dunham said, “She’s sick, that’s all I know; probably stress.”
Tackling the immediate crisis of the insurance policy that had expired January 15 and on the recommendation of financial advisor Jack Martin, the board had to consider approving a new building insurance proposal for a cheaper cost. The district could not meet the down payment of $218,000 that was required by the current provider to renew the policy, Martin said, and the board’s approval of the lower bid “would bind coverage tonight and give us some time on making the down payment.”
New board member Norman Bailey said, “If we can get insurance tonight, we need to do that.”
“If a building burns down tonight, we’d be lost,” said new member James Piggee.
Robert Buggs, a new member said, “If we don’t act on this, we’re putting others at risk.”
Carlos Tolliver, another new member, asked for a delay on the approval until their next meeting, but the board approved Martin’s recommendation.
That the board was not notified of the impending policy lapse was also a cause for alarm. “With this we’re taking a source of revenue from another Gary business,” Rosie Washington said. “But when we look at the numbers we had to go with the lower bidder. Somebody here should have known about this policy lapsing. We need to find a chief financial officer to help run our district or we’ll find ourselves again in this quagmire.” The district has not had a financial officer for more than a year.
Martin caused even further alarm with the possibilities of paydays being delayed. The district can meet its next payroll on Friday, January 20 but future paydays in February and March are in jeopardy, he said, unless more cuts are made.
The scheduled February 3 payroll will move to February 15 and the scheduled February 17th payroll will move to March 15. “After that we’re in no-man’s land,” Martin said. The school district and its state legislators are working on a plan to get support from the state. If that succeeds, it will restore scheduled payrolls.
Board member Nellie Moore was infuriated. “We had a board meeting in December and approved all the cuts except moving service center staff to satellite locations and to Roosevelt. We’re sick and tired of this piecemeal stuff. We acted on everything you and the superintendent proposed. Now you’re coming back with Deep River.” Martin said he was “only doing what the superintendent asked and the more likely we close them, the more likely we’ll get money from the state.”
In December, the school board approved the immediate closing of Williams Annex during the winter break. It also approved the closing of Watson Boys Academy, Jefferson Elementary, and New Tech High School, the school within a school at the Gary Career Center at the end of the school year in June.
“Mr. Martin, are you assuming that we’ll just keep on working,” asked Dunham. “You are totally out of order. This is not right. And I will stop working with you.” Dunham said she had met with Martin late last week and there was no mention of missing payrolls.
Before the discussion could continue into shouting matches, Washington gained order to move on to the next agenda item.
The board will meet for another working session on Friday, January 20 at the school service center. The meeting is open to the public.