Mayor joins effort to help Thea Bowman

Pitches proposal to address school’s problems

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THEA BOWMAN LEADERSHIP Academy is in jeopardy of foreclosure if it cannot find a charter in 30 days.

Gary Crusader staff report

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson has called together community and political leaders to help save the Thea Bowman Leadership Academy. The school’s future remains uncertain after Ball State University pulled Thea Bowman’s charter in January because of governance and financial issues.

To stay open, Thea Bowman needs a charter in order to gain funding. Ball State officials say that Thea Bowman has 30 days to find a charter or they will be forced into foreclosure.

Since losing their charter, six of the school’s eight board members have left. Parents have been divided as to what direction the school should take. A total of 1,300 students attend Thea Bowman’s high school, located at 3401 W. Fifth Ave. The elementary school sits in a rented facility at 975 W. Sixth Ave.

After the school decided not to appeal Ball State’s decision, the Drexel Foundation, which already holds the school’s charter asked the Indiana Charter School Board to become Thea Bowman’s authorizer. Concerns grew last month when it was discovered that the Drexel Foundation violated a 2009 loan agreement with UMB Bank.

The other proposal would allow Ball State to renew Thea Bowman’s charter under the leadership of a new parent group.

Parents voiced their concern about both proposals at a hearing at one of Thea Bowman’s schools on March 18.

Neither proposal pleases Freeman-Wilson. In a statement to the Gary Crusader, she said “While both ideas have merit, there are enough uncertainties about both that give me pause and that have added to the confusion of many involved. My review of the proposals and my discussion with involved parties have led me to conclude that the best resolution is somewhere in the middle.”

In an email to the Gary Crusader, Freeman-Wilson outlined a proposal that calls for securing a new authorizer, a joint successor board, and an interim school management entity. The mayor’s proposal also calls for identifying Thea Bowman’s long-term management needs. In addition, the proposal aims to address the school’s short-term needs to provide stability for students during the transition.

Wilson said the proposal would be presented at a meeting in the next seven days. The leaders who have been invited are State Senator Earline Rogers, Council President Ronald Brewer, Sr., Thea Bowman President Keisha White, Gary Community School Corporation Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, Ball State Director of Charter Schools Robert Marra, James Harris, Taryl Bonds. Gary Airport Authority Chairman Steve Mays and other leaders have been invited as designees.

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