GARY | The Indiana Department of Education has labeled the Gary Community School Corp. a high risk district, paving the way to take over its federal funds and determine how they are spent.
The Gary School Board held a special meeting Monday and could have accepted the designation or appealed it. The board agreed 4-3 to accept it.
Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt stressed this does not mean the school district is being taken over by the state.
"This will be a partnership, a collaborative effort," Pruitt said. "The state superintendent (Glenda Ritz) has said she has no intention of taking over schools."
School Board member Nellie Moore, one of three members objecting to the designation, said the board should have appealed.
"I believe that by saying yes to the designation without even objecting to it is saying we are not doing anything," she said. "It didn't mean the designation wasn't going to happen, but we (should have) objected and showed them what we are doing and that we have made some improvements," she said.
"This letter says we will yield our authority over federal funds -- that's special education, the breakfast and lunch program and other federal programs. We're yielding that power without a whimper."
As he listened to the discussion by board members, Gary Teachers Union President Joe Zimmerman said teachers need copy machines, support in discipline, acceptable physical environments and basic supplies to implement the curriculum.
"If the IDOE can provide those things, we welcome it," he said.
Of Gary's 16 public schools, 13 were graded D or F by the state. The Banneker Achievement Center and the Frankie McCullough Academy for Girls earned an A. The Glen Park Academy for Excellence in Learning earned a C.
Of the 7,800 students in the district, 80 percent receive free or reduced-cost lunch. Pruitt pointed out the district has the highest mobility rate in the state, a 42-percent tax collection rate, tax caps, declining enrollment, a high drop out rate, a high number of single-parents families and students who are two or three grades below grade level.
"We have to be as transparent as possible in assessing where we are as a district and what is needed to ensure a high quality education for our students in Gary. It takes courage to face the truth," she said. "Sometimes it feels like a negative, but this will give us an opportunity for additional support."
Pruitt said she expects the designation will help the school corporation as well as the civil city as part of the "Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative." She said the next step will be planning. Each school in the district will receive about $50,000 from an early-intervention grant.
Pruitt has proposed closing some school buildings and reducing staff based on the enrollment to erase a $12.2 million deficit. The School Board has not voted on that measure. School leaders are looking to develop a plan to repair the district's aging facilities.