A state senator from Gary who drafted legislation establishing charter schools now thinks Gary has reached its limit.
“We’re almost at the point that we’re not allowing our traditional schools to have the dollars they need to operate,” said state Sen. Earline Rogers, a Gary Democrat and retired Gary schoolteacher who co-authored the state’s charter school bill in 2001. By August, there will be eight charter schools in Gary, compared to 16 Gary Community School Corp. schools. Two more charters are being proposed for 2013 and two others have sent letters of intent to the state.
The Indiana Charter School Board, a seven-member statewide board, is holding a Thursday public hearing on charter school applications from Indiana Urban Education Solutions Inc. and Responsive Education Solutions. The hearing is at 5:30 p.m. at Steel City Buffet, 411 E. 5th Ave.
The board will vote on the proposals May 21 in Indianapolis.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson agrees with Rogers. although she said she wrote a letter of support for a prospective charter applicant.
“There are enough charter schools in this area,” she said. “I’m concerned the resources are being dissipated. I don’t think anybody wins that way,” she said,
The first charter schools, sanctioned by Ball State University, opened in Gary in 2004. Between 2006 and 2011, enrollment in the Gary Community School Corp. declined by 3,570 students costing the district millions in state funding.
Charters are attracted to the city because of money — the school district receives $7,686 per pupil from the state this year. The district’s low performing schools and 50 percent dropout rate also make the city a charter target. There are more than 4,400 students in charters across the city.
Ball State hasn’t approved a charter for a few years, but the new Charter School Board is on a much faster pace. It’s considering 16 applications on May 21, and 24 organizations have submitted letters of intent.
Shrinking school district
While charters are growing, the Gary school district is closing schools or losing them. The state has ordered a takeover of the Roosevelt Technical and Career Academy because of low test scores. The school will be removed from the district umbrella when it reopens in August.
Last year, the school district and three high schools received “F” performance grades from the state. That has left the door open for charters to flock to Gary.
“There are a high number of students who aren’t performing well,” said Claire Fiddian-Green, executive director of the Indiana Charter School Board. She said as long as urban schools have low-performing students, charters will be lured to them.
With the loss of Roosevelt to takeover operator EdisonLearning Inc., there will be more charter high schools in Gary than traditional schools in August.
Rogers says she’s at the tipping point, too.
“Percentage-wise, someone said Gary had more charters than any school district in the country, so the idea of two more, I think certainly would impact negatively on traditional schools.”
Charter school supporters don’t think Gary has reached its saturation point.
Angela West, principal of 21st Century Charter School of Gary, held up a sheet of paper last week. On it, were 266 black squares representing students on a waiting list. “Just 30 got in,” she said of the school’s March lottery.
“In a perfect world, there ought to be another school for them to go to,” West said. “Parents beg us to get their child in.”
Gary parents say charters provide a welcome blend of small-family atmosphere and personal attention.
“If kids get in trouble, you’ll get a phone call,” said 21st Century school parent Mike Dillard. “There are things for kids to do here. Every child here has an opportunity to go to college.”