GARY — The Indiana State Board of Education voted Wednesday to end its intervention at Theodore Roosevelt College and Career Academy.
The 10-0 board vote removes one tier of oversight in a layered relationship between the state-takeover Gary Community School Corp. and for-profit educational services provider EdisonLearning, which manages academics for the Gary Roosevelt school.
The action will take effect after this school year, when an Indiana Department of Education contract with EdisonLearning providing state tuition support ends.
EdisonLearning and the Gary Community School Corp., which maintains facilities for the school, will need to negotiate the terms of a new student enrollment-based funding structure moving forward.
“We have every intention to work diligently and collaboratively with the Gary Community School Corp., as we have in the past, to ensure that the students of Theodore Roosevelt have a quality education, and that all of our actions and decisions will be made with what is in the best interest of your children being first and foremost,” EdisonLearning school leaders said in a Wednesday message to Roosevelt families.
Students still displaced
The vote comes following months of uncertainty and increasing speculation from the state board after students were displaced from the 90-year-old Gary Roosevelt school building last February following millions of dollars of damage sustained in last winter’s polar vortex.
Students have been taking classes this school year in the Gary Area Career Center under the academic oversight of for-profit educational services provider EdisonLearning.
In an innovation agreement struck in 2017 between EdisonLearning and the Gary Community School Corp., the public Gary school district is responsible for providing a space for the students to learn.
The community criticized student placement in the Gary Area Career Center, including specifically several classes being taught in converted garage bay space.
That, along with a recent decision by Gary schools administration to expand Gary Area Career Center offerings in the fall, led Gary Community School Corp. officials to seek out other options for housing Roosevelt’s approximately 420 seventh through 12th graders.
The SBOE decision Wednesday morning does not determine a location for students moving forward. That decision will be up to the Gary Community School Corp.
The district has issued requests for proposals to reevaluate expenses needed to bring the historic Roosevelt building back into an operable environment for learning. Past estimates placed the cost in excess of $10 million — a heavy task for the cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.
The district has also weighed the option of moving Roosevelt students into other Gary-owned buildings like West Side Leadership Academy in the next academic year.
A recommendation is scheduled to be presented at 1 p.m. Thursday to Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board, the state entity which oversees the public Gary Community School Corp.’s districtwide takeover.
A Gary schools spokeswoman declined to answer questions about Wednesday's state board vote. No representatives of the Gary Community School Corp. nor its state takeover emergency management team MGT Consulting were present at the Wednesday meeting.
EdisonLearning eyes return to Roosevelt building
The Florida-headquartered EdisonLearning team maintains that it has proposed the only viable option for student placement next school year.
In December, EdisonLearning leaders presented a plan to rebrand the school as a charter STEM academy teaching classes in the original Gary Roosevelt building with the support of a proposed $25 million investment.
EdisonLearning spokesman Michael Serpe has repeatedly declined to publicly name the Atlanta-based, minority-owned investment firm, saying the education provider would do so only if given the support to move forward in its own plan.
For that to happen, EdisonLearning would need to establish a nonprofit entity to oversee the proposed charter school concept and see its existing innovation agreement with the Gary Community School Corp. dissolved.
Gary schools representatives have said in the past the district hopes to continue working with EdisonLearning under the current contract to find a new location suitable for students.
Several Gary community members spoke at the Wednesday board meeting about their frustration in feeling unheard by the multiple state and takeover entities involved in oversight of Gary schools.
“On both levels of the takeover … great harm has been done,” said Michaela Spangenburg, speaking on behalf of a newly formalized Gary Education Coalition. “While I applaud the spirit and the idea of giving the control of Roosevelt back to the community, there has to be a way in which this is done responsibly.”
Che’rone Bradshaw, a Gary Roosevelt senior, spoke in support of keeping her school open.
"Roosevelt has almost 90 years of history, academic and athletic. To close it down would be a slap in the face to all of those who have made it what it is today, or what it was," Bradshaw said, adding "I’m proud of my school and its history and I feel like it shouldn't be shut down because of minor obstacles."