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4/18/2018 12:44:00 PM
Financially troubled Gary schools to cut 60 jobs

Meredith Colias-Pete, Post-Tribune

The Gary Community School Corp. will look to cut 60 jobs as part of its effort to stabilize costs and reduce its $16 million operating deficit, an official said.

The district is negotiating with custodial and secretarial unions to find cuts, Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley said during a State Board of Finance meeting Tuesday

It would look at the possibility of outsourcing custodians and maintenance. Hinckley said the district plans to meet with Gary Teachers Union representatives Friday.

Staff cuts would avoid eliminating certified teachers as much as possible, Hinckley later said via text. Gary has struggled to fill full-time teaching positions in recent years, relying on long-term substitutes.

Gary is looking at “all staffing,” she said. “We will try to stay away from classroom teachers. We will look at other positions like elementary librarians, counselors, social workers, secretaries and classified staff.”

Salaries are typically the largest expense of school districts. Gary currently has more than $100 million in debt.

While battling financial woes, staff layoffs were unavoidable, Hinckley said during the meeting.

“Ultimately, it is people in the school business that costs us so much,” Hinckley said. “That’s the key to us becoming viable.”

Teachers are being reassigned as Gary moves to a single high school at West Side Leadership Academy and starts up a new middle school next school year.

Gary is looking to reestablish relationships at local universities, actively recruiting teacher candidates at schools such as Indiana University Northwest.

It needs to pitch itself as a challenging, but rewarding place to work for new teachers, she said. The district’s starting teacher salary at $40,500 is “very competitive,” she said.

“I think the real thing is, we change lives in Gary, Indiana,” she said.

The district would also start up a new marketing campaign with flyers and billboards to attract students to return, Hinckley said.

West Side Leadership Academy earned a B-rating under the state’s accountability system this year.

“We can’t continue to lose students,” and get by on budget cuts, Hinckley said.

The State Board of Finance voted to approve the $3.75 million loan recommended by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board last week.

State Board of Finance members noted Gary has made progress on finances including settling its IRS debt and paying off overdue bills to vendors.

Also during the meeting, Hinckley said Gary is waiting for an official letter from the Internal Revenue Service that releases the district from IRS tax liens. Earlier this month, the IRS accepted a deal that would allow Gary to pay $320,000 to close out $8.4 million in past penalties and payments.

Once the deal is official, it would allow the district to sell off properties and assets for extra cash.

Thirty schools have closed since 2003, according to Post-Tribune archives. Many have been unsecured and in severe states of disrepair for years — making them magnets for vandals, the homeless and urban explorers.

Eric Parrish, MGT Consulting Group’s executive vice president, said it doesn’t have firm plans yet on selling off former properties. The district could someday look at a tier system which would categorize properties starting with those in the best possible shape.

“I don’t think we are going to have a huge windfall from asset sales,” he said, adding many of the buildings due to deteriorating conditions are “not marketable at all.”

One of the biggest pressing issues in clearing properties is that demolitions can cost more than the buildings are worth, Hinckley said. In some cases, vandals “have either been living in them, or stripping aluminum from frames,” Hinckley said. Some have “walls that have collapsed.”

Currently, the district doesn’t have extra funds to put toward those properties, she said.

Gary also is examining a historic collection of artwork now in Chicago.

When IRS liens are released, they would look to discuss with the community which works to keep and display on the second floor of the recently reopened Gary Public Library main branch.

The rest it would potentially look to auction, she said.

Copyright 2018, Chicago Tribune

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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