Gary school meeting 2

Gary School Board member Nellie Moore, sitting on the far right in red, has a front row seat to a discussion about Senate Enrolled Act 567 in May that spells out the takeover of the Gary Community School Corp.

GARY — Even as enrollment declined with the influx of charter schools and private-school vouchers in the Gary Community School Corp., the district was still top heavy with administrators eight years ago.

In the 2009-10 school year, The Times reported the Gary Community School Corp. had 56 administrators who earned a total of nearly $4 million, with a student enrollment of 11,786. Those figures were part of an organizational chart provided by the school district in 2009 as part of a look at public school district finances in Northwest Indiana.

Not so today as administrators, teachers and staff have been laid off, retired or left to pursue other interests, saving the district millions of dollars. The student population has shrunk to about 4,700 this school year, with fewer than a dozen administrators who collectively earn less than $700,000 a year.

The state took over the school corporation last year due to its poor academics and finances. Senate Enrolled Act 567 required the Distressed Unit Appeals Board to appoint an emergency manager. DUAB appointed Gary native and longtime educator Peggy Hinckley, of Schererville, as the emergency manager, along with Florida-based MGT Consulting.

The law gives Hinckley near-total authority to implement academic and financial changes, negotiate contracts and run the Gary school district, subject only to review by a local advisory board and DUAB oversight.

Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt, along with the elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp., have no official say in decisions made by the emergency manager.

The law also says the School Board can meet only once monthly rather than the series of weekly committee and regular meetings that were routine in the past.

With Pruitt having announced late last week that she plans to resign in February, Hinckley said the corporation is "pretty bare bones" and she will have to make additional belt-tightening decisions to help reduce more than $100 million of debt.

However, the state also directed Hinckley to appoint a chief academic officer and a chief financial officer. Hinckley said she has interviewed several people but can't announce those names until they have been approved by DUAB.

Current administrators and their pay

Pruitt earns a base salary of $136,000 per year, plus an additional $1,000 per month for use of her own vehicle. In 2016, Pruitt earned $178,300, including her annual annuity payment of $18,500 and a $30,000 bonus she was paid in March 2016.

Pruitt, whose resignation is effective Feb. 2, serves as a resource to the emergency manager and works on community projects.

Hinckley said it's appropriate for Pruitt to continue to do those kinds of things.

"You have to speak with one voice, and since it's a takeover of academic and fiscal, and I'm accountable for it, it's not fair to ask someone else to do that kind of work," Hinckley said.

The district currently has 300 teachers, 70 paraprofessionals, 43 custodians and 60 clerical staff.

A look at some of the key administrative positions in the Gary school district shows few top administrators remain.

According to information provided by Hinckley's office, former Assistant Superintendent Cordia Moore retired in October. She earned $111,057 per year. Former special education director Marianne Fidishin, who earned $113,165, left to pursue other interests.

Hinckley hired Lucille Washington on an interim basis as chief academic officer. Washington, who is working part time, earns $68,512.

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Hinckley hired a new special education director — Iliana El Khalanie, who started on Aug. 28. Her salary is $83,848.

Melisha Henderson, who started July 25, 2016, serves as human resources manager, and earns $33,562.

Ron Gordon, who serves as operations manager, started Aug. 22, 2016, at $27,194.

Marie Adkins is the grants coordinator, and she earns $77,029. Robert Becker heads up the information technology department at a salary of $68,745.

Joan McCormick is a consultant in the special education department at a salary of $72,000 from Nov. 2 through April 30, 2018.

Hinckley hired Sheleita Miller, who owns Gary-based Gateway Accounting LLC. Miller, who was one of several people who applied to be emergency manager, was hired to assist the accounting department at $80 per hour from Sept. 7 through March 31, 2018.

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Hinckley said MGT Consulting created a subsidiary called Gary Schools Recovery LLC to serve as its legal entity during its operation of the school district. She said about a dozen staff are working with the school district either at the district or remotely.

"Now that we are past the opening of schools, there are two curriculum people who are here about five days a month for elementary people and two curriculum people who are here six or seven days a month for secondary," she said.

Hinckley said the chief of staff, Eric Parrish, is working remotely on the development of the proposal, and is at the school corporation a couple of times per month. She said deputy chief of staff Amy Marsh works a couple of days a week.

Fred Seamon, who heads up Gary Schools Recovery LLC, is there four or five days per month.

According to contract information released by the state, the Gary schools emergency manager and the Gary schools recovery team will earn up to $3.9 million this school year and similar amounts in the next couple of years if the team reduces the deficit by Jan. 31, 2018.

The contract also says the emergency manager already has earned a $100,000 bonus for achieving a "smooth start" to the school year by ensuring that classes started on time in clean, safe and well-supplied buildings with minimal bus transportation problems.

School Board members' power, pay reduced

The elected Gary school board members have expressed frustration about their role because they have no decision-making power.

Indiana law allows school board members to receive an annual stipend of $2,000, plus $112 for each meeting they attend and $62 for each committee meeting they attend.

However, now, under Senate Enrolled Act 567, which authorized the state's taking over the district, the Gary School Board is limited to one meeting per month and as a result, board members will only earn the stipend.

In 2016, Rosie Washington received $8,382; Nellie Moore $8,990; Darling Pleasant $7,626; Antuwan Clemons $9,250; Robert Campbell $9,312; Doreatha Rouse $9,226; and Marion Williams $6,308.

Clemons, Campbell, Rouse and Williams are no longer on the board. New members who took office in January are Robert Buggs, Carlos Tolliver, James Piggee and Norman Bailey.

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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.