State ends takeover of Roosevelt but questions remain

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Roosevelt College and Career Academy

Struggling school still will not have local control in a state-controlled school district

By Erick Johnson

The State Board of Education on Wednesday, January 15, ended its eight-year takeover of Roosevelt College and Career Academy, but the struggling school will still lack local control because it remains in a state-controlled school district.

The board voted 10-0 to return the school to the state-controlled district at its regular meeting in Indianapolis. Board member David Freitas was absent.

The state took over Roosevelt in 2012 after years of “F” grades on the state’s accountability test. As part of the takeover, the state awarded a lucrative contract to EdisonLearning to manage Roosevelt’s curriculum. The state came under fire after a Crusader report that showed Roosevelt’s students made little to no academic progress under the eight-year-old takeover while EdisonLearning received at least $31 million for its services.

In 2017 the company signed a joint operating agreement called the “innovation partnership” with the Gary Community Schools Corp. The agreement relaxed the state’s academic standards and took pressure off EdisonLearning as it earned nearly $5 million a year to manage Roosevelt.

That same year, the state took over the entire Gary school district because of poor academic achievement that fell far below the state average and debts of over $100 million.

In 2018, the Roosevelt received an “A” grade after showing some progress in attendance and enrollment as questions were raised whether EdisonLearning was being overpaid for delivering little to no academic results.

Despite being a state-controlled school in a state-controlled school district, Roosevelt continued to lag behind.

Tony Walker, a member of the board, and State Representative Vernon Smith called EdisonLearning’s management of Roosevelt a “flawed takeover” and urged that local control be returned to the school district.

Wednesday’s decision may be meaningless because EdisonLearning will continue to manage Roosevelt in a state-controlled Gary school district that makes all the academic and financial decisions with Emergency Manager Peter Morikis and MGT Consulting.

The decision however, will take away some or all of EdisonLearning’s authority over Roosevelt. After Wednesday’s decision, questions remain as to how much authority Morikis and the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board will have in making academic and financial decisions on Roosevelt’s future, including its historic but shuttered building.

Last month after the Crusader investigation, EdisonLearning pledged to renovate the building for $25 million and turn it into a K-12 charter school. Marshall Emerson, Roosevelt’s superintendent, and Principal Joshua Batchelor, in a joint statement, said, “this is the only plan that maintains the existence of Theodore Roosevelt.”

With the state ending its takeover of Roosevelt, questions remain as to whether EdisonLearning will be allowed to follow-through on plans under Morikis’ leadership of the state- controlled school district.

The spotlight now turns to Morikis as activists renew calls for the state to end its takeover of the school district as well.

With accusations of little to no transparency, Morikis and the state-controlled school district had remained tight-lipped about Roosevelt’s building as distrust deepened among Roosevelt alumni.

Roosevelt’s building had been closed since January 2019, after sub-zero temperatures caused by a polar vortex caused the pipes to burst. Classes were cancelled for two weeks before students were relocated to the Gary Area Career Center in Hobart.

MGT’s Eric Parish held a meeting July 16, 2019 after the Crusader began reporting that no updates on Roosevelt’s building were being given to the communities, while the crumbling structure had debris on the site and broken windows.

Parish said at that meeting that it would cost at least $10 million to restore the building but gave no documented proof of any assessments of the building.

Under pressure, Parish told the Gary Fiscal Management Board that there were talks of plans for Powers & Sons to do a second walk-thru of the building but that turned out to be false.

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