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Residents question proposal to return control of Roosevelt to Gary school district
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Residents question proposal to return control of Roosevelt to Gary school district

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GARY — Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy could return to the full authority of the Gary Community School Corp. as early as this year.

Indiana State Board of Education member Tony Walker announced Monday he will call for a vote at the next state board meeting in January to decide whether to return Gary Roosevelt to its former district.

The state took over the high school in 2012 after years of failing grades. In doing so, educational services provider EdisonLearning was contracted as a turnaround partner.

EdisonLearning remained on board to run classroom instruction in a 2017 agreement struck with the Gary Community School Corp. in a contract approved by the State Board of Education.

"It's for immediate return of Roosevelt to Gary Community School Corp. in January," Walker said of his proposal during a community meeting Monday night. "Part of it is not only to get the state authorities out, but to turn the key and critical decisions about the future of education in Gary back over to local control, and back over to the people that are here."

The Monday night meeting on the Indiana University Northwest campus was organized in an effort to hear from the community after state board members questioned whether the school should be closed or returned to the Gary Community School Corp. after record-breaking cold displaced students from the school last February.

Through the agreement struck with EdisonLearning in 2017, the Gary Community School Corp. is responsible for providing facilities for the approximately 420 students enrolled in the school that serves 7th through 12th grade.

Gary schools has placed students in its Gary Area Career Center since the February polar vortex. However, looking to expand career center offerings, the public Gary district has notified Roosevelt families it does not intend to provide space for Roosevelt students in the career center next year.

Necessary renovations in the 90-year-old Roosevelt building are expected to cost at least $10 million and could take more than a year to complete — a difficult task for the already cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.

The building's current state of disrepair has led for calls among alumni to restore the building for education or create a museum honoring the heritage of the historically African American high school whose halls were once walked by greats like professional basketball player Glenn Robinson and George Taliaferro, the first black football player to be drafted into the NFL.

The Gary Community School Corp. is currently in the process of seeking new cost estimates for work needed to return students to the school.

EdisonLearning, MGT Consulting and state board staff toured three school buildings Monday as possible alternatives for the coming school year. The school and state officials visited Bailly STEM Academy, currently operating as a 6-8 middle school; Lincoln, which is unoccupied after administrators moved their offices to open space in West Side Leadership Academy; and 21st Century Charter School, which moved into Ivy Tech's former Gary location this school year.

EdisonLearning, which is responsible for the school's instruction and academics, has long maintained it would like to return students to their former home on West 25th Avenue.

EdisonLearning shared its vision for a new pre-K through 12th grade STEM charter school last week, claiming school leaders were seeking $25 million from an Atlanta based investment firm to fund a complete renovation of the Roosevelt building.

"The students of Gary should not have to go to neighboring schools to a get a quality education in a 21st century facility," EdisonLearning Principal Joshua Batchelor said Monday night.

Though, some in attendance questioned the proposal.

"We could spend the rest of the night with platitudes," Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said. "Unless we're willing to roll up our sleeves and work on a plan, that's just what it is; a lot of hot air."

State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, challenged EdisonLearning's academic performance over the years and asked whether the funding could be secured without relaying on Gary taxpayers to support a for-profit entity headquartered in a different state.

"The Roosevelt school should be turned back to the Gary Community School Corp.," Smith said. "Anything they do is not going to be resolved this winter. We have to plan for the future and do what's right now."

EdisonLearning spokesman Michael Serpe declined to confirm the name of the Georgia-based investment firm, when asked by The Times on Friday, saying “we wouldn’t have mentioned the fact that we’ve had discussions if they weren’t serious.”

Roosevelt alumni in the audience expressed concern for students' learning conditions, pointing out that several classes are being led in the garage bay areas of the career center.

EdisonLearning superintendent Marshall Emerson said his team is working with MGT Consulting, the for-profit emergency management team that oversees the Gary Community School Corp., to split the cost of constructing temporary classrooms within the garage bays. 

State board staff took notes in small breakout sessions of priorities held by the dozens of Gary community members who attended the meeting.

Though, Roosevelt alumni remained seemingly unconvinced of the multiple proposals made Monday night.

"What about the kids right now?" said Carmelita Perry, a 1986 graduate of Gary Roosevelt. "I'm undecided. Why would you give the school back to a district that's already broke?"

The State Board of Education staff is taking individual input via email to sboe_comment@sboe.in.gov.

Staff will use public feedback from Monday's meeting and emails received through the end of the year to draft a recommendation for the board's vote deciding whether Roosevelt should be returned to the Gary Community School Corp.

The state board meets next on Jan. 15 in Indianapolis.

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