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Newly-appointed Gary School Board gets updates on school finances, academic goals

screenshot from Gary Community School Corporation Facebook video

The newly-appointed Gary School Board held its first official meeting Tuesday, in another step toward returning the school corporation to local control.

It still looked very different from a typical school board meeting. No items were brought to the board for approval, and no votes were taken. That's because the district is still managed by MGT Consulting under the oversight of the state's Distressed Unit Appeal Board. Instead, the 90-minute meeting consisted mainly of presentations from district leaders.

"The district is now financially healthy," said manager Dr. Michael Raisor. "The one thing that I will say that makes that extremely, extremely important is that means we're on track to meet the exit requirements of distressed unit status."

He said the school corporation saw an infusion of funds in recent years, thanks to its operating referendum and federal COVID relief programs. That's allowed the district to upgrade facilities. Work is also underway to study how efficiently the school buildings are being used, compared to their capacities.

Raisor said the school corporation needs to determine what it can truly afford, not just what it can pay for at a given time. "I've worked with many school districts across America that say they have a balanced budget, but they just stop spending money when they run out. And there's a difference," Raisor said.

School officials were also concerned about improving academics, specifically literacy. Deputy manager Mavis Snelson said only 47 percent of third graders passed the IREAD-3 test.

"No one, myself included, is satisfied with our current scores," Snelson said. "We know our students can do better than this."

School officials have been working to address reading scores by investing in school libraries. They're also looking at providing take-home activities parents can use with their children.

If the state's requirements are met, the Gary School Board could take full control of the district next July.

Michael Gallenberger is a news reporter and producer that hosts All Things Considered on 89.1 FM | Lakeshore Public Media.