By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
Gary Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt went on medical leave days before the school board voted to temporarily replace her with assistant superintendent, Dr. Cordia Moore. It was a meeting that forced board president, Rosie Washington, to abruptly end it after board member, Carlos Tolliver, went on a wild rant about the board’s financial decisions.
Pruitt’s medical leave comes as the board seeks to obtain an additional loan to keep Gary’s schools running while lawmakers prepare to review a bill that would give them financial control of the district.
In a statement, Pruitt did not disclose her medical problems, but she leaves at a time when the school board is struggling with discord and a massive debt that threatens the future of thousands of students.
“Presently, I have a couple of issues that I need to focus on,” Pruitt said in a statement. “Earlier this year, I was hospitalized for nearly a week and did not take the time to recover.”
She went to say, “Reflecting on my duties, I notified the board of these issues, and they are taking measures to make certain the needs of the district are met in my absence. I am hopeful I will return to serve the needs of this district, which are great. However, I plan to put my health first.”
The Crusader was unable to reach Pruitt, but in one news report, she said she hopes to return to work pending doctor’s approval on April 20.
At the school board meeting on March 28, members unanimously approved Moore’s appointment as acting superintendent after the item was moved to the top of the agenda.
Moore thanked the board for their vote of confidence following her appointment. After the meeting, she spoke to the Crusader about her plans for the district.
“I’m an educator. Despite what’s going on, my focus is to help the students in the district,” she said.
Pruitt, 54, has nearly two years left on her contract as superintendent. A Roosevelt graduate, Pruitt has led the district since 2012. Last December, the School Board narrowly voted to extend her contract and $136,000 salary to June 30, 2019. It’s uncertain whether Pruitt will be able to return to her position or what long-term plans the board has.
In the meantime, Moore takes the helm at the district. She has served in various roles within the Gary Community School Corp. In 1996, she earned the Milken National Educator Award as principal at Washington Elementary. She was also assistant principal at the former Dunbar Pulaski Middle School.
While Pruitt was absent at Tuesday’s board meeting, her critic, Tolliver, was there.
In February, Pruitt filed an order of protection against Tolliver saying she feared for her life after Tolliver allegedly stalked her on two separate occasions. Tolliver denies the claim and plans to have the stay-away order dismissed at a court hearing on April 12.
Meanwhile, Tolliver has been unable to attend any meetings where Pruitt is present. But on Tuesday, he took the opportunity to lash out at the board accusing them of making shady financial decisions and criticizing a contract between the Edison Learning Center and the Roosevelt Career Academy.
He drew cheers and applause from some members of the audience. About ten minutes into his rant, Washington ended the meeting after accusing Tolliver of making personal statements during his rant.
It was the latest embarrassing episode that cast the school district in a negative light as lawmakers in Indianapolis get closer to reviewing a bill that will give the state financial and management control over the district. The bill also calls for the district to have an emergency manager.
The Gary School District has debts totaling over $100 million as dwindling enrollment and Gary’s depleted property tax revenues plague the district. Despite staff layoffs and closing schools, the district has been unable to climb out of debt.
At a meeting in Indianapolis on March 31, the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board plans to review the district’s request for another loan. On March 10, the DUAB approved an emergency $3.75 million to cover the district’s payroll for March and vendor payments.