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Indiana ends seven-year takeover of Gary Community School Corporation

A person in a colorful top and white pants walks down a hallway with white walls and blue lockers.
FILE PHOTO: Zach Herndon
/
WTIU
The state will relinquish control of the Gary Community School Corporation on July 1.

The Gary Community School Corporation is preparing to shift from state to local control July 1. The district is no longer financially "distressed," but residents still will not be able to vote on their local school board for the foreseeable future.

The district has been under state control since 2017 when it was $21.5 million in operating debt. It was forced to relinquish local control to an emergency manager appointed by the state of Indiana.

A report from the state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board (DUAB) last year shows the district has made strides in its budget. The district has maintained a surplus of more than $1 million since 2021.

Michael Raisor, senior vice president of education transformation at MGT Consulting Group, is the district’s state-appointed manager. He said Gary has budgeted for the next five years and has a considerable cash reserve more than three times what the state requires.

“That puts the district in really good shape for the next few years, regardless of what happens,” he said. “We've put in a system now where the district can continue to model out five to 10 years and see any potential potholes that are upcoming in the road. I think that's one of the most exciting things about this is the district is in a position where it does not have to react.”

Gary parent and community member Tracy Coleman said the community is thrilled to regain control of Gary’s schools.

“We are absolutely ecstatic,” she said.

From the beginning, the takeover received backlash from residents who said there should have been more community involvement.

One example is the school board.

When the state took control of Gary Community School Corporation, it appointed MGT Consulting Group to manage the district. MGT replaced the school board and superintendent, and residents haven’t elected any school officials since.

A new five-member school board was appointed last year to act in an advisory position. However, three of the five members were appointed by the Indiana Department of Education. The Gary Common Council and Gary’s mayor appointed the last two members, but many residents said the community should receive more input.

Coleman wants at least two school board members to be elected by Gary residents. She said the community cares deeply about its children and their education, but many people feel like their opinions were swept aside during the takeover.

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Raisor said the current school board appointments are written into Indiana law for the time being. He acknowledged there has been pushback against the district’s management, but he said he has seen a lot of excitement about where the district is headed.

“You know, nobody wants their school district taken over by the state,” he said. “But by and large, there's huge community support for the school district now, support behind the school board and a lot of support behind Dr. [Yvonne] Stokes, who I can't speak highly enough about.”

On July 1, the currently appointed school board will take control of the district and install Yvonne Stokes as the new superintendent.

Raisor will step down, but he and his deputy manager will stay as consultants during the transition. He said the school is in good financial shape and set up for future success.

He added that this is a fresh start for Gary Community School Corporation.

“There has been a stigma around Gary Community Schools from the school takeover and from the circumstances and factors that put it into state takeover,” Raisor said. “That stigma needs to be gone. The school district is in some of the best financial shape of any district in the state right now. We have very talented individuals leading our schools and leading the district. And probably, I would argue, the best school board in the state.”

Coleman said she and others in the community will continue to advocate for a locally elected school board and other positive changes like a new fieldhouse, mental health resources and one-on-one tutoring.

“These are our children,” she said. “This is our school system, so it’s just very important that the community does what it has always done: Advocate for our children. Stay involved.”

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

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Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.