Gary Community Schools is asking the state legislature for help as it struggles with ongoing financial problems. This comes after a school referendum failed last week.
The school referendum was posed after years of financial struggle and failed by only 300 votes. The NWI Times reports the district sent a letter to staff Friday, saying it wouldn’t make payroll on time:
Gary schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt said payroll is delayed until Tuesday when the district gets its monthly allocation from the state. The school’s biweekly payroll is about $1.6 million.
Gary’s state-hired financial consultant Jack Martin said the district is nearly $100 million in debt. However, he said the most critical is $25 million in the operating budget. The district is current with debt-service payments, including utility payments to NIPSCO and to the IRS.
This is the district’s second failed referenda to counter decreasing enrollment in recent years. When students leave a district, state money goes with them, and Gary schools struggle to maintain staff and buildings.
The district is now talking with legislators about how to keep itself financially stable. Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Luke Kenley said he’s been talking with Gary representatives and the superintendent. He doesn’t want to give them more money. He says he wants to help them solve a bigger problem.
“I don’t think that’s the source of their problem, just to throw more money at them,” Kenley says. “I think they need to have a whole different management structure there.”
Kenley says he wants to involve the mayor of Gary, who has worked to financially stabilize other parts of the city, such as the airport. The state hired a financial consultant whose been working in the district for months, and participates in these discussions.
Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt says the district is considering closing buildings, laying off staff and contracting out services like custodial and grounds maintenance to save money. She says this is scary for many in the community as they worry about the future of their school district.
“Many people are pretty sad that they don’t know what to expect now. They don’t want to see a close in the school district,” Pruitt says. “It’s a little bit of uneasiness and uncertainty.”