GARY | The president of the Gary Teachers Union sent a note to teachers asking for input if the Gary Community School Corp. runs out of money and can't pay teachers after November.
Joe Zimmerman, who became president of the Gary Teachers Union on July 1, said he is aware of the district's precarious financial situation because he has been attending the meetings.
"At Tuesday's meeting, (board member) Barbara Leek said the district has enough money to meet payroll through the end of the (2012) year," he said.
While Leek said she hasn't seen the union letter, the board took decisive action Tuesday night to allay the fears of teachers and other employees. She said it passed a resolution to accept a $5.7 million loan from the Indiana Bond Bank and began a process to consolidate its obligations.
Gary native Cheryl Pruitt, who became Gary schools superintendent July 1, immediately asked the Indiana State Board of Accounts to conduct an independent review of the district's financial picture. Auditors have been reviewing the finances for more than a month and are likely to be in Gary another month, Pruitt said Wednesday.
The superintendent said the district is not "going broke." Pruitt said the district has a strong commitment to teachers and students.
"We are working to balance the budget. We know we have a deficit. It's no secret," Pruitt said. "We are putting together a financial plan as we speak. Even as we move forward, there will be recommendations for reductions. We are putting together a financially sound budget, and our hardworking teachers will be paid."
Gary School Board President Darren Washington said he wishes Zimmerman had talked to him or the superintendent before sending the notice to teachers. "This is a serious issue, and we don't need to send out letters scaring people," he said.
Washington said administrators are applying for grants to capture as many dollars as possible. "With us having less than 9,000 students, we can't continue to operate the same staff and buildings that we had previously. We're looking at innovative ways to do things. Payroll won't be an issue. It will be paid," Washington said.
In spring 2011, the Gary Community School Corp. sent letters saying 373 positions would be trimmed, including 276 teaching positions. Most of those employees were rehired.
In 2012, administrators said they needed to cut $23 million; it is not clear how much of that remains to be eliminated. In spring 2012, letters were sent to 169 teachers, giving them notice they could lose their job. All but about 40 have been recalled to work.
The district said it would cut 25 administrators earlier this year but several returned. The district reopened the shuttered Dunbar-Pulaski building as a middle school this fall.
Several weeks ago, the district did reduce the number of central office staff and secretaries.
Each year, the amount of money the district has received from the state has dropped, corresponding with the decrease in student enrollment. In 2010, the district received $98 million based on 10,579 students. In 2011, the district received $94 million from the state, and in 2012, it received $77 million. That money goes into the general fund; salary and benefits for teachers are paid for through the general fund.
Gary educators also said eliminating the "de-ghoster" is a factor in its reduced budget. That relates to the state's former accounting procedure whereby schools received money for three years after students left for another school or district to support the staff and infrastructure left behind. Once it was eliminated, the money followed the student more directly.
The Gary Community School Corp. has lost hundreds of students each year as a result of the growth of charter schools in the community. Last year, parents also had the option of sending their students to private schools using public dollars. This fall, a Tennessee-based management company took over operation of Gary Roosevelt; 704 students are enrolled there.