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Gary residents demand lawmakers return schools to community control

Gary residents took a bus more than two hours to protest for local control of schools at the Statehouse on May 24, 2022.
Dylan Peers McCoy/WFYI
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Gary residents took a bus more than two hours to protest for local control of schools at the Statehouse on May 24, 2022.

More than a dozen Gary parents, residents and students gathered at the Statehouse Tuesday to demand lawmakers return control of the schools to the community.

The state took over Gary schools five years ago, when the district was in dire financial trouble. The school system's financial outlook is better now, but lawmakers still haven’t settled on a plan for how and when local residents can regain control of the schools.

"We want to get local control,” said GlenEva Dunham, president of the Gary Teachers Union and the Indiana American Federation of Teachers. “We have people that are ready and able to run our district.”

The state’s Distressed Unit Appeals Board, which is charged with overseeing the district, hired an outside company to run the schools.

When the district was taken over, it had accumulated more than $100 million in long-term debt. The state-appointed manager helped stabilize the budget with spending cuts. And the school system is now benefiting from a surge of new local, state and federal funding.

The state oversight board is expected to decide soon whether to renew that contract with Florida-based MGT Consulting Group. Board members seem supportive of extending the deal, according to the Chicago Post-Tribune. Last week, the board held a public input meeting in Gary where many audience members called for local control.

LaVetta Sparks-Wade, whose son will graduate from West Side Leadership Academy next month, traveled to the Statehouse to make sure lawmakers heard residents’ concerns. She said the company the state hired to run the district is failing students.

"We are frustrated as parents not being engaged appropriately,” Sparks-Wade said. “They don't want our suggestions."

The rally was timed to coincide with the one-day session when lawmakers return to the Statehouse to make technical corrections to recent legislation. Lawmakers did not consider any bills Tuesday that focused on Gary schools.

Contact WFYI education reporter Dylan Peers McCoy at dmccoy@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @dylanpmccoy.

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