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Vacant Buildings

The massive brick hulk of Gary's former Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High School sits vacant in the 700 block of East Seventh Avenue, gutted and vandalized by local gangs and others.

With all of the vandalism and looting of abandoned Gary public school buildings in recent years, thieves from within are the last thing the beleaguered school district needs.

Gary Community Schools Corp. Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt released an inventory Wednesday, noting 10 laptop computers and two desktop computers were missing from the Williams Annex, which is the former Dunbar-Pulaski school that now houses seventh- and eighth-graders.

The school district reported the missing equipment has a "depreciated value" of about $3,200. Of course, it would cost more to actually replace these computers, which are supposed to be learning tools for students in the already struggling school district.

Pruitt expounded on the matter Wednesday, telling The Times the missing equipment was once part of the now-shuttered Lew Wallace High School. It was being moved from Lew Wallace to the Williams Annex by school personnel but never made it to the new destination.

It's clear Pruitt needs to get to the bottom of this issue quickly. If the computers were stolen, the responsible parties should be fired immediately. A criminal investigation by Gary police is ongoing.

But the matter also seems to be a symptom of a bigger problem in Gary schools.

Several of the school district's 21 abandoned structures have fallen victim to vandals and looters in recent years. Some have been tagged with gang graffiti, and one, Gary's former Emerson school, became the scene of a homicide last year.

Windows and doorways of many of those schools have been broken out or into, and abandoned school property — including desks, blackboards, fixtures and other equipment — can still be seen from the street.

This all amounts to waste of taxpayer-funded equipment — moldering and abandoned resources that this struggling school district could use or sell if it's not already damaged beyond repair.

The recent case of missing computers en route from Lew Wallace to the Williams Annex clearly shows the district must adopt better security protocol.

But it's also apparent Gary schools needs to inventory its abandoned buildings, immediately removing any resources that are still of value and re-purposing or selling the items.

The school district is mired under the crushing weight of $92 million in total debt. A special administrator has been appointed by the state to help get the fiscal house in order.

The district can ill afford to let any dollars or cents — in the form of equipment — just be abandoned by the roadside.

Irresponsible mismanagement is doing more than shorting taxpayers. It's robbing entire generations of Gary schoolchildren of a quality education.

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Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.