Gary schools getting $1.4M in legal settlement

2013-06-24T18:55:00Z 2013-06-24T19:13:23Z Gary schools getting $1.4M in legal settlementBy Dan Carden, (317) 637-9078

INDIANAPOLIS | Gary Community School Corp. will receive nearly $1.4 million after agreeing Monday to settle a lawsuit with the state.

The suit followed claims that excessive student aid funds were taken from the school's budget and paid to the turnaround operator of Roosevelt College and Career Academy.

The State Board of Education voted 6-0 to accept the legal agreement reached by Gary, Indianapolis Public Schools and the Indiana Department of Education after a Marion County judge found the department, under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, improperly paid turnaround operators for the 2012-13 school year by using much higher 2011-12 student counts.

"We're happy to see the Indiana Department of Education has returned that money to us," said Gary Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt. "It should help us with the deficit we are facing right now."

Both Gary's $1.4 million award and about $6 million to be paid to Indianapolis schools total 80 percent of the funds erroneously paid to the for-profit and nonprofit turnaround operators in both cities.

The General Assembly appropriated the reduced amount to encourage the parties to settle without enduring further legal battles.

Tracy Coleman, Gary schools attorney, said the agreement will allow everyone involved to refocus their attention on the more important task of educating students.

"Our efforts, our energies are on helping our children succeed, and we appreciate the efforts of the state superintendent and this board in helping us to do that," Coleman said.

However, the state board may have laid the groundwork for future lawsuits by changing a portion of the agreement on the fly to promise turnaround operators they would get at least as much money in future years as they received this year — without specifying whether that includes the incorrectly allocated funds.

Neil Pickett, a board member from Indianapolis, said the board simply wanted to affirm its support for the turnaround program and said turnaround schools would only be funded based on correct student counts.

Current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz wasn't sure about that.

"I think there are a lot of legal questions about what just happened," Ritz said.

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