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Gary resident applies for Emergency manager

Contributed By The 411 News

Not since the state takeover of Roosevelt High School six years ago has a meeting to discuss the Gary school district drawn as large of an audience as seen at Thursday night’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board meeting to introduce the applicants for the Gary school district’s emergency manager.

State control of the school district was cemented with the passage of SB567 by the 2017 Indiana Legislature, designating the Gary Community School Corp. as a taxing unit that couldn’t pay its bills and putting it under the guidance of Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board.

Now, the DUAB is in the process of selecting an emergency manager—the partner for the five-year period the state will manage the district. That partner will take over the duties of Gary School Supt. Cheryl Pruitt and the Gary Board of School Trustees.

The board spent the day in Gary interviewing seven candidates before introducing them at Thursday night’s public meeting at Wirt-Emerson VPA. The board received 13 submissions from firms and individuals to its Request for Information for the Gary schools emergency manager services, but reduced it to the most responsive.

Former State Sen. Earline Rogers felt all the applicants made strong presentations, based on the requirements spelled out in the bill for emergency manager. Financial management and the return of the district to economic solvency is the state’s major goal before or by the end of the five years.

The bill stipulated Gary residents must be included in the interview process. Sheleita Miller’s Gatekeeper Accounting Services was the lone resident applicant from Gary.

In 15-minute presentations followed by questions from DUAB members, the 13 companies gave their histories working with school systems and described their plans to stabilize the Gary school district’s finances, reduce its debt, improve academic outcomes, and engage the community.

As DUAB members seek the best entity to satisfy those goals for the school district, the selection of that partner will likely bring into play the matter of their relationships with the State of Indiana.

Gatekeeper Accounting is a minority-owned and single-person operation going up against multi-layered, national corporations with a history of providing a wide range of professional services for education and other public sectors. One of them—Martin, Arrington, Desai & Meyers—is currently partners with the state as a financial advisor to the Gary school district.

Minority-owned Robert Bobb Group includes the Indianapolis-based Phalen Leadership Academies. Phalen is a turnaround operator for three Indianapolis public elementary schools and manages Gary’s Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, a K-12 public charter school.

Crowe Horwath, mainly known for its financial accounting services, touts a distinct relationship with the state. Among its team of experts are Sue Ellen Reed, the former four-term Indiana Supt. of Public Instruction, and Tim Berry, former Indiana state auditor.

Another minority firm, Comer Capital Group headed by Gary native Brandon Comer, came to the school district’s assistance early this year when the district couldn’t borrow funds to make payroll. Comer’s company arranged a short-term loan to pay salaries.

Neither MGT Consulting Group nor the Bronner Group brought strong associations with the official state of Indiana; instead, they have deep histories in education and associated services that impact education, such as financial management, transportation, technology, and facilities planning and management.

DUAB Chair Micah Vincent said the selection of an emergency manager can be expected by July 30. That will be two weeks before Gary schools open, Aug. 17.

Roosevelt High School came under state control because of academic failure and took on a new name, becoming Theodore Roosevelt Career & College Academy (TRCCA). The state’s five-year control ended in 2016 without the school making any notable academic gains. The school is still being managed by EdisonLearning, the state’s school turnaround partner.

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