Peggy Hinckley

Gary emergency manager Peggy Hinckley

GARY — The Gary schools emergency manager reported the school district is making strides in reducing its deficit.

Peggy Hinckley and the Gary Schools Recovery LLC, a subsidiary of MGT Consulting Group, was hired eight months ago to reduce the $100 million-plus deficit and improve the academics.

Hinckley met Thursday with the Fiscal Management Board, chaired by retired Gary Sen. Earline Rogers, and told the board that her team has made a $12 million dent in the deficit.

Hinckley said that's the result of the settlement agreement with the IRS which saved the district $8 million, a $1 million savings on the transportation contract, $2 million on health care expenses and the NIPSCO bill has been caught up. The $1 million owed to the utility has been paid, and it's now current.

"We have been paying down the debt," she said. "Instead of owing the Gary Sanitary District a half million, we owe them $60,000."

Hinckley reiterated there would be 60 layoffs which could potentially include librarians, counselors, social workers, long-term substitute teachers and unlicensed teachers. She's also investigating the costs of outsourcing custodial and maintenance positions.

It could be that some staff like counselors and social workers could be retrained to work as behavioral specialists.

"It's a new role of dealing with students who are disruptive," Hinckley said "There will be three days of training by the special education department to these employees who would be able to deescalate disruptive children, to calm them down so they can go back to class."

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Hinckley said what happens now is that disruptive students are just sent home, but she said that can't continue to happen.

"You have to have a mechanism to deal with these students. Traditionally counselors will do groups and social workers will call families but when that kid is out of control, someone has to have the knowledge and the physical ability to calm that child. Sometimes, it's just temporary and they can be calmed down and go back to class. When we don't have them in class, they are not learning anything," she said.

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Hinckley also said it's a new skill set in this world today.

"People feel like students should be in school unless they have guns, drugs, or they are extremely violent, so we need to have better skill sets to handle this," she said.

Gary schools Chief Financial Officer Leonard Moody told the fiscal management board said the school district had been operating without a budget and financial controls.

"We have created a budget and put financial controls in place to track our spending," he said.

Moody said they also intend to install new software to make the district more efficient, and it will reduce the number of people needed for certain processes.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.