EDITORIAL: Gary schools need to work well with others

2012-04-12T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Gary schools need to work well with others nwitimes.com
April 12, 2012 12:00 am

It's a new day in Gary, and that includes the school district as well as the civil city. It's high time the Gary School Board and administration begin learning to adapt to the new era they are in.

That hasn't been apparent to date.

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett met with The Times Editorial Board on Tuesday, expressing his frustration at being "disinvited" to speak to the Gary School Board about some evidence of dysfunction at the school district.

In an April 10 letter to the board, Bennett wrote, "I recently learned I am no longer welcome tonight to address your board on behalf of Gary's students. My staff was told these issues should be discussed at a later date in a non-public setting. This is discouraging news. We do students no favors by punting these discussions down the road and behind closed doors."

The Indiana Open Door Law doesn't allow these matters to be discussed in private.

School Board President Darren Washington said the public needed to have sufficient notice of Bennett's visit to allow plenty of time to ask questions. But Bennett's visit was set up two months ago. There was plenty of time to notify the public.

Bennett offered a number of areas in which Gary Community School Corp. needs to show improvement, and quickly.

Chief among them is special education. The school district has a suspension/expulsion rate of students with disabilities that is seven times greater than the state average, according to a fact sheet Bennett brought.

And in an era in which special education students are to be put in the least restrictive environment, only 18 percent of Gary's special education students are in the general education classroom for 80 percent or more of the day. That's three times lower than the state average.

Bennett said the school district has shown a repeated pattern of canceling meetings with the state Department of Education advisers and an unwillingness to make long-term change.

The district also is the only one in Indiana to use memorandums of understanding to extend the teachers contract that expired in 2007, Bennett said. State law now requires contracts be limited to wages and wage-related items only.

Gary school officials even failed to submit their application for federal Title 1 funding by the deadline, so the state had to extend the window of opportunity so Gary schoolchildren could get the help they need, Bennett said.

Bennett didn't mention the Gary School Board dragging its feet on the sale of land to allow the expansion of Gary/Chicago International Airport to go forward, but it's another example of Gary school officials being out of sync with the new era in Gary and in the state.

The district's board and administrators must stop fighting the changes the Indiana General Assembly and the Indiana Department of Education are bringing and start figuring out how best to serve Gary's schoolchildren in this new era. And that includes working well with others.

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