Federal official visits dilapidated Gary school buildings

2011-10-31T15:15:00Z 2011-11-01T16:00:50Z Federal official visits dilapidated Gary school buildingsBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

GARY | Brunswick Elementary School students LaJayla Dixon and Danielle LeGrant would like to see a larger gymnasium, cafeteria and library at their school.

They'd love new computers, iPads, a smartboard and some of the other technology that is becoming common in neighboring schools. It also would be great to have a bigger building and less crowded classrooms.

But first: The floor tile is broken and cracked, the kindergarten rooms flooded, there are leaks in the ceiling and a pipe broke in a second-floor bathroom, causing leaks down the hallway.

Those are some of the things the pair mentioned to U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham, who visited four Gary Community School Corp. schools Monday to see firsthand the district's infrastructure needs. They could be helped by the proposed $450 billion American Jobs Act.

Despite the building's condition, Brunswick students have shown growth on the state's ISTEP-Plus exam. This year, 62.69 percent of students passed both the English/language arts and math portion of the test, up from 53.2 percent last year.

Principal Gloria Terry said the Brunswick community and parents are very involved. She said teachers often come in early and stay late. Terry said she lost some teachers and aides this year, and federal dollars would help to restore that along with a popular Saturday school program that had to be eliminated.

Gary school officials, local business leaders and ministers also talked to Cunningham about how the increase of charter schools had affected the district and the loss of those dollars. They said students leave to attend charter schools but many return to the Gary district.

Cunningham, who works for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, visited Gary as part of a tour of schools across the country to highlight infrastructure needs and promote the American Jobs Act proposed by President Barack Obama. Nationwide, it would offer $30 billion to prevent the layoffs of 280,000 teachers and $25 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools.

In addition to Brunswick, Cunningham also visited West Side Leadership Academy, Lew Wallace STEM Academy and the shuttered Ivanhoe Elementary School.

Federal officials said the infrastructure needs in Gary are similar to those they are seeing as they travel across the country.

In Indiana, officials said the American Jobs Act would provide:

  • $443 million for modernization projects, supporting an estimated 5,800 jobs
  • $629 million to prevent an estimated 9,100 teacher layoffs for one school year.

"America stands at a crossroads: We can roll the dice and hope to educate America's kids amid teacher layoffs and dilapidated school buildings, or we can use this opportunity to give our students the world-class education they deserve -- with a strong teacher corps working in modern facilities," Duncan has said.

Last month, U.S. Sens. Dan Coats and Dick Lugar, both Indiana Republicans, voted against the Democratic president's jobs bill, which would cut payroll taxes for workers and businesses but raise taxes on millionaires. Lugar said Obama's "costly and flawed" plan should be replaced by one that reins in federal spending and encourages private investment through tax code changes and reining in regulations.

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