By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
State Representative Charlie Brown addressed the final meeting of 2016 for the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) last week by informing the board that the district was in a crisis.
Brown, along with State Sen. Earline Roger, State Sen. Dr. Vernon G. Smith and Atty. Daniel J. Friel (representing the Labor Relations Board), as well as several concerned citizens and board members spoke at the meeting in regards to some of the closing issues the district has been dealing with, not only this year, but for some time.
Recently, Sen. Eddie Melton, Brown and other members of the legislature met with members of the State Ways and Means Committee after finding out that they were interested in consolidating a portion of Gary schools with those within the Lake Station School District.
Brown stated, “I made a special trip here to make you all aware that they were having meetings we were not aware of. They want the far east side students within our district to be relocated to West Side High School, and the students that live in the upper west side to go to Lake Ridge High School. The five of us are not buying into this.”
He continued, “If we had discussions about making these types of drastic changes, then we would not be accountable. Your financial manager made recommendations, and there were no actions taken and you did not support the $2 million loan. Because of these things, it is not going to be easy. They have already made up their minds that the Gary schools have not met their obligations. They said your sole obligation was to educate the children and you have not done that.”
If legislation is developed, Brown said it would be identical in both counties and supportive of a second loan. All would sign a letter supporting this loan. “They might have to come to the point where they have to be embarrassed that they had to help an African-American school corporation, and I’m serious about that.”
He also added that many of the ills of the district have been the development of charter schools. “There are at least three or four other school districts approaching the same financial situations as we are.”
Smith told the meeting that they are not only fighting an image of the School Corp., but that of Gary itself.
“We might be top-heavy with too many employees compared to the number of students we have, and we also have too many buildings. When I started at the GCSC, we had 48,000 students and 40 buildings. Now, we are down to 13 to 14 buildings. Mismanagement happens, even in my personal life. I have things that I don’t even use because I thought it was a good sale. Some of it is deserved, but some of it is not. It is the same with the district.”
Smith said there may be an appearance of corruption from the number of students the district has and the number of employees. “They are not taking a holistic look at where we were and where we are now. This is what we are fighting. The legislature has created many of our problems. We were doing a better job of educating our children then, than we are doing now. We are not educating them anymore, we are schooling them for a test.”
He suggested that there be a marriage between the urban and rural school districts and a lawsuit filed. “I’ve said this many times before. The only time we got major changes in education was when schools filed a lawsuit against the state. What we are doing is putting a bandage on the inevitable. I’m saying fight back. We are going to do all we can to support the GCSC, but we are going to need your help,” he said.
In other business, the board voted to renew Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Pruitt’s contract an additional two years. Her contract expires on June 30, 2017, and there was a public hearing held on Dec. 12 on the motion.
Speaking as a citizen, James Pigge addressed the board and said he was in favor of renewing her contract. “A lot of misinformation was out in the public about the superintendent, but no one has seen the improvements she made. Some people don’t take the time to find out about facts.”
No other alterations were made to her contract.