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State to negotiate 2-year extension of Gary schools takeover services
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State to negotiate 2-year extension of Gary schools takeover services

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food distribution at Gary West Side

Elizabeth Summers, center, distributes meals in April at West Side Leadership Academy. A fleet of Gary Community School Corp. buses delivered meals to two dozen locations across the city while students continue remote learning through the end of the school year.

The Gary Community School Corp. is expected to keep its emergency management team for at least the next two years.

Indiana's Distressed Unit Appeal Board, the agency overseeing state takeover of the financially indebted Gary school district, voted Thursday morning to negotiate a new, two-year contract with emergency management services provider MGT Consulting Group.

MGT Consulting, through a subsidiary, first contracted with the state in 2017, when the cash-strapped Gary school district's deficit loomed at more than $22 million.

The state's three-year contract with MGT Consulting's Gary Schools Recovery subsidiary ends July 31.

Justin McAdam, chairman of the Distressed Unit Appeal Board, said retaining MGT Consulting was important to preserve continuity and stability in the state's takeover efforts, especially given the uncertainty brought to education amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

McAdam proposed a two-year agreement with reevaluation possible at the contract's end.

"There's always ground lost when you change directions and you change leaders in an engagement like this," McAdam said, adding, "MGT has been very successful in righting the ship and setting the course for future success."

Gary schools takeover team presents 3-year plan to end distress status

In the last three years, MGT Consulting has consolidated schools, reduced staff and renegotiated vendor contracts, among other initiatives, cutting the school corporation's deficit to just $6 million.

However, some in the community, including the members of the district's non-voting advisory board, have raised concerns about academic achievement under MGT Consulting's watch after graduation rates at West Side Leadership Academy plummeted from 85.7% in the 2017-18 academic year to 58.5% the following school year. 

MGT Consulting presented its plan in a public meeting last month to end the Gary district's distressed status over a three-year period.

In the consulting company's pitch, Emergency Manager Paige McNulty, who stepped in as interim emergency manager in February, detailed steps to increase remediation for high school seniors, expand CTE offerings at the Gary Area Career Center and implement a districtwide 1:1 technology plan this summer.

Gary schools' Pete Morikis out as emergency manager; takeover district names new leader

"I see today's vote as an endorsement of the path we're on," McNulty said in a letter to the Gary community Tuesday. "We have more work to do, particularly academically, and we hope to continue to partner to take on the challenges ahead."

The Distressed Unit Appeal Board met with MGT Consulting representatives in a nearly three-hour executive session before the board's 4-1 vote Tuesday to extend the management firm's services.

Tracy Brown, serving on the board as an Indiana Department of Education representative, voted against a two-year contract extension, preferring a one-year agreement with contract renewal possible upon review of academic performance.

The board, in the Tuesday vote, also gave its chairman authority to negotiate the new, two-year contract to be brought before the board for approval its next meeting in July.

Gary Community School Corp. to accelerate 1-to-1 technology rollout amid coronavirus pandemic

Though MGT Consulting asked for increased compensation in a new contract, McAdam said he would work to hold state payment at its current level given anticipated revenue cuts coming across state agencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The state's current contract allows MGT Consulting to earn up to $11.4 million in base pay and incentives over three years.

McAdam said he is likely to negotiate a similarly structured contract with incentives set specifically for academic performance.

He said the board is committed to greater use of data and academic performance metrics in future oversight of the Gary takeover and proposed the creation of a new board policy for public comment during board meetings, something typically not extended in past DUAB meetings.

Governor promises no K-12 education funding cuts

McAdam said he anticipates a negotiated contract will be brought to board members a week before its next meeting.

"The community deserves to know where we're going and how we intend to get there, and we will be asking for their ideas — and their help — along the way," McNulty said in a provided statement. "No one knows better than I do how much more work we have ahead of us, and it will take everyone, working together, to meet our goal of offering every Gary student a high-quality education."

The Gary Community School Corp. recently launched parent and community surveys to solicit feedback on academics and district management. The surveys are available through June 29 on the Gary schools website at garycsc.k12.in.us.

Gallery: Gary's abandoned schools

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