Chesterton Tribune



Gary School Board votes to close Lew Wallace and five other schools

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GARY, Ind. (AP)- Nearly 2,200 students could end up in different schools in the fall after the Gary School Board's decision to close six of the district's 17 schools in a budget-cutting move.

The board voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve the closings of Lew Wallace High School and five other schools to help close what administrators say is a $27 million deficit blamed in part on declining enrollment and the state's property tax caps, the Post-Tribune and The Times of Munster reported.

District Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said she expected more than 200 jobs to be lost in the closings.

The amount of savings from the school closings depends on which teachers and other staff members remain and their salaries, said Michael Washington, the district's chief financial officer.

Board member Nellie Moore said the city's declining population and tax collection rate of 42 percent left the district no choice.

"This is a very uncomfortable decision but it is one that has to be made," she said.

The district's enrollment of about 8,600 students for this school year is down from the some 16,000 students it had eight years ago, according to state Education Department figures.

Gary Teachers Union president Joseph Zimmerman blamed charter schools and the state's private school voucher program for eroding the district's enrollment.

"We have to look at how we got to this point. Across the city, there are 4,000 plus (students) in charter schools. This is the Wal-Martization of our community," he said, referring to the nonunion charter and private schools.

The district has long struggled with high poverty levels and low academic performance at its schools, with 11 of them receiving F grades in the state's latest school ratings.

Board member LaBrenda King-Smith, who voted against the closing plan, said district administrators had failed to communicate with the public about the closings.

"Closing six schools at once does more harm than good," she said. "To receive information at the very last minute is an injustice to all. You have to work together collectively and you cannot exclude the community."


Posted 6/4/2014