Recommendation to close Roosevelt nothing new
By Erick Johnson
First came the good news. The state decided to end its flawed takeover that wasted more than $22 million on EdisonLearning, hired to turn around Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
Then came the bad news. One day after the state made its decision, the state-controlled school district headed by Emergency Manager Pete Morikis and MGT Vice President Eric Parish, on Thursday, January 16 recommended to close the storied school.
The clock is now ticking for the state to make the final decision on Roosevelt’s future. It has 30 days to render its verdict, which should come around February 14.
The timing of the two stunning developments over Roosevelt’s future seems strange.
However, the emergency management team’s recommendation to close Roosevelt is nothing new. Readers and alumni who followed the Crusader’s coverage of Roosevelt since June of 2019 saw this coming.
They picked up on the red flags as they saw an emergency management team that dodged questions, deceived the public, and made unfulfilled promises to a community that was kept in the dark. Even as broken windows and debris littered Roosevelt’s campus, EdisonLearning and the emergency management team held no community meetings and made no attempts at transparency until this newspaper began raising questions about the school’s future.
When the state-controlled district did hold community meetings, public comments were allowed, but not questions. To be fair, the comment-only policy comes from the Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) in its contract with the emergency management team.
While this policy aims to keep meetings from running over, it had the unintended effect of stirring more distrust among alumni who grew frustrated with unanswered questions. This went on until the very end of the so-called public input process.
Built when Black students in Gary weren’t welcomed at white schools, Roosevelt for decades was a beacon of immense pride to the city and its alumni, many of whom have become prominent Black achievers across the country. While Roosevelt remains a shell of itself today, many still hold the school’s legacy and its contributions to Gary in high regard.
When Roosevelt received six consecutive F grades, the state took over the school in 2012 and awarded EdisonLearning the contract to turn it around. After years of wasteful spending by the state, the building and the academic performance of Roosevelt students are crumbling.
Many alumni who spoke to the Crusader said they knew the emergency management team had their minds made up about the building long before Parish made the announcement on January 16. Despite the dim hopes, many fought on anyway, hoping to save what was left of the school.
To many, Roosevelt was doomed when its pipes burst in January, 2019, forcing over 500 students to be relocated at the Gary Area Career Center in Hobart. Instead of being open and up front with the status of Roosevelt, residents and alumni were strung along with explanations that really didn’t say anything.
When Morikis promised at a community meeting in August that he was working with the city’s code enforcement and looking into securing state grants, no follow up was ever given at future meetings.
For six months, from July to December 2019, the Crusader documented the steps and misdeeds of the emergency management team.
Meanwhile, Roosevelt’s historic building languished while the state continued to give EdisonLearning millions of dollars as part of a lucrative contract that would push its earnings to more than $31 million. As the education company with its checkered past, reaped big fortunes, Roosevelt’s students continued to lag behind the state in test scores and graduation rates.
In 2017, EdisonLearning’s contract was renewed and the company struck a deal that seemed like they were being paid millions just to get students to come to school.
All this state money could have been put to better use, including restoring Roosevelt’s historic building, which Parish said in his recommendation would cost between $9.3 million to $15 million. He said those figures came from a “recent” assessment by Powers & Sons, a long-respected Gary firm, whose CEO Mamon Powers has been vocal at several community meetings.
In October 2019, the Crusader published a story after obtaining an audiotape of a meeting, reporting that Parish lied about having talks with Parish for a walk-thru of Roosevelt’s building. At the time, Powers said no such talks had occurred. When the Crusader sent an email to speak to Parish, Powers received an email the next day from Parish about a possible walk-thru of Roosevelt’s building. Powers told the Crusader that Parish asked him to keep the request confidential.
After that story ran on the front page of the Crusader, neither Parish, Morikis, or anyone from the emergency management team and EdisonLearning, informed this newspaper that the walk-thru with Powers and Sons would actually take place.
This is one of several incidents that damaged the credibility of the emergency management team that tried but failed to gain the trust of parents and alumni as it disseminated little to no information about Roosevelt.
After Parish made the recommendation to close Roosevelt, EdisonLearning’s president Thom Jackson, for the first time, publicly criticized Morikis, calling his decision an “affront to the community and to legacy” of Roosevelt.
Jackson accused school officials of lack of transparency for not sharing with the DUAB his company’s pledge to spend $25 million to restore Roosevelt as a charter school.
Though Jackson’s concerns are important, his awakening came a little too late.