At final community meeting, parents and alumni blame state for wasting $31M in failed turnaround
By Giavonni Nickson
Supporters of Roosevelt expressed outrage and frustration over the proposed closing of the historic school building during an emotionally charged community forum Tuesday, February 4 at the Gary Area Career Center.
Approximately 100 members of the community attended and dozens spoke at the public hearing nearly two weeks before State’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board makes the final decision to close the school.
“Roosevelt is the oldest African American School in Indiana. There is no way it should be taken down,” said Telethia Barrett.
Eric Parish, of the school district’s turnaround provider MGT Consulting, reviewed the district’s financial obligation to manage 11 operating buildings, not including Roosevelt, for an annual cost of $10 million, compared to the $2.5 million the district collected in tax revenue in 2018.
“So, based on all of this information that we’ve collected we’ve gone slow and people have asked why is this taking so long. My response is, I understand the significance of the Roosevelt building in the community,” said Parish before outlining
GCSC’s proposed recommendations.
GCSC recommends that DUAB not spend the millions of dollars required to repair and renovate the Roosevelt Building.
GSCS recommends issuing a national Request for Proposal (RFP) for entities, organizations, or individuals to assume ownership of the Roosevelt building for the greatest benefit to the Gary community.
A few months ago EdisonLearning Inc., the turnaround operator of Roosevelt since 2011, proposed a plan to reopen Roosevelt by creating a charter school, Theodore Roosevelt R.I.S.E. with a $25 million infusion from an unnamed Atlanta investor.
The five-year contractual agreement between GCSC and EdisonLearning that began July 1, 2017, was negotiated by the Board of Trustees prior to the DUAB status determination.
While no solutions were presented regarding plans for the Roosevelt building, community members pointed fingers at GCSC, MGT, EdisonLearning, and the State of Indiana for failing to maintain and uphold the legacy of storied Roosevelt.
Lavetta Tindal, a 1966 Roosevelt graduate, highlighted the failure of EdisonLearning and state officials with heated remarks saying, “Anybody that can expend $31million without proper accountability cannot be trusted. EdisonLearning has failed. We know that the Indiana State Board of Education has failed us, and we know that this career center placement has failed. Please do not entertain the thought of putting a failing company in a position where they earn more money on the backs of our children.”
Lori Perry, a 1985 graduate, pointed to the building deterioration that started over three decades ago. Perry, who worked for GCSC for 14 years, said her first assignment was to evaluate the buildings.
Right now, GCSC maintains utilities, custodial services, repairs, and grounds for 11 occupied buildings, and the Roosevelt building.
Parish said maintenance includes three things and one is not there. “Preventive maintenance is something that should happen but doesn’t always happen to repair things in advance of breakage.”
Mary Cossey, a 1984 Roosevelt graduate, stepped to the podium to unleash concerns about the condition of the school. “Roosevelt lacks new books, equipment, and a swimming pool. I recommend that the contract with MGT be terminated and that the city recruit a superintendent to reinstitute a school board so we manage our own schools.”
Telethia Barrett called out the state for a lack of accountability and urged members of the community to come together and file an official complaint.
“We have known and seen, a lack of funding for our schools and school buildings through the years. This is a repeat of school closings happening throughout this nation, and this is not just Gary. This is neglect on the part of the state, and the state needs to take responsibility,” said Barrett.
A vote to close the historic building will not close the Roosevelt school completely. However, Gary school officials must consider another move for Roosevelt students currently housed at the Gary Area Career Center. Parish said the district has not yet decided on a location for Roosevelt students to attend class next school year.
The decision regarding the school and its building will gravely impact current students.
High school student Peter Webb made a tearful plea against GCSC’s recommendations that will be brought before DUAB Thursday, February 13.
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.