State Rep. Vernon Smith

MGT to stay in Gary schools -- DUAB favors stability over change

Contributed By:The 411 News

State Rep. Vernon Smith shepherds community's concerns about state takeover

Gary schools emergency management team of MGT Consulting and Gary Schools Recovery, LLC will continue as the state's partners to operate the Gary Community Schools Corporation.

GSR is a subsidiary of MGT.

As members of Indiana's Distressed Unit Appeal Board recommended approval of the contract renewals, Thursday morning's meeting showed that local concerns instead of state preferences were being heeded to manage the operations of the Gary school district.

Both entities are nearing the end of 3-year contracts that began August 1, 2017.

Instead of 3-year renewals, the DUAB offered only 2-year contracts.

DUAB chair Justin McAdam said, "There is a lot of uncertainty around continued operation of schools and what it will look like next year. Will we face another surge of the virus spread. And we have to consider there is always ground lost when changing leaders."

The vote was 4-1 among members that retaining MGT and GSR would guarantee continuity and stability as the state faces the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Board member Tracy Brown, representing the Indiana Dept. of Education, said her department would only support a 1-year extension and by the end of that year, the state should be able to determine if academic improvement had been achieved.

The board said MGT's measures that reduced the $22 million yearly deficit in 2017 to $6 million in 2020 have been successful at righting the district's financial ship. The 2-year renewal will give the emergency management team enough time to concentrate on academic improvements.

A longtime concern from the local community has been the downturn in academic success since the state takeover. Schools that had achieved "A" and "B" state accountability ratings before the takeover have slid to "F" ratings.

Rep. Vernon Smith, a non-voting member of the DUAB has shepherd the community's concerns.

Chairman McAdam proposed to the board that it reverse its policy of not allowing public comment at board meetings. "I believe that we as a board ought to allow public comment. It would be helpful in guiding our opinions and thought processes." McAdam said much was learned from the public forum DUAB held on the Gary schools in May.

Community members in the Gary school district have complained communications and questions to the DUAB, MGT and GSR go unanswered. Rep. Smith said he hasn't yet been able to secure a meeting with Dr. Paige McNulty, the emergency manager for GSR and responsible for academics and curriculum.

Improving academics has been harder to achieve than improving school finances board members conceded. McNulty is GSR's 3rd leadership change in 3 years. MGT is responsible for the district's financial operations.

McAdam said, "In our 3-hour meeting with MGT and its team, we were able to address those community concerns about engagement and we learned how MGT expects to respond to those concerns."

McAdam, who is also Indiana's OMB chairman, assured Rep. Smith that the renewal contracts will not have increased costs. "In light of today's reduced revenues, the state is asking everyone to tighten their belts. MGT is amenable to the 2-year contract without an increase."

McAdam said all board members will be able to review the new contracts after negotiations are completed between the board, MGT and GSR.

Story Posted:06/19/2020

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