HAMMOND – Critics of the state takeover of Gary’s public schools renew their attack in a new federal lawsuit.
Gary’s attorney, Tracy Coleman, is asking a federal judge to return control of the Gary Community School Corporation to the residents of Gary.
Coleman filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court over the weekend, saying officials in Indiana violated the civil rights of Gary residents in 2017 when they took over the debt-ridden schools.
Coleman alleges that the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board – whose members are all white – discriminated against Gary’s black population when it replaced the locally elected school administration with a private management company.
She further alleges that the management company illegally held a referendum to voters in Gary last November to raise municipal taxes by more than $ 21 million over eight years to help run Gary’s schools.
Residents of Gary approved the referendum to raise their taxes by 13,901 to 9,146 votes.
Coleman is also suing the Lake County Voter Elections and Voter Registration Board, which placed the referendum on the 2020 general election ballot.
This is the second time in less than a year that the Federal Court has been asked to deal with the way the state runs Gary Schools.
Gary activist Robert Buggs and Gary resident Larona Carter complained to local election officials last year that state-imposed Gary School officials do not have the power to conduct referendums.
Paige McNulty, headmistress of Gary’s Emergency School, asked a federal judge to rule on Buggs’ complaint, but the federal judge refused to get involved and referred the case to the Election Board of Lake County to Crown Point where the matter is under debate.
Coleman said Monday she has filed a new lawsuit to ensure that a federal judge will rule on the constitutionality of the state takeover of Gary Schools.
Merrillville attorney Alfredo Estrada, who represented McNulty in the previous federal case, said Monday he could not comment on the new lawsuit at this time.
United States District Court Judge Theresa L Springmann was appointed on Monday to preside over Coleman’s latest requests for a declaratory judgment saying civil rights are being violated and an injunction to remedy the case.
Coleman’s 19-page complaint presents an examination of racial discrimination and the decline of the Gary school system.
He says Gary’s public education system has long been plagued by racial segregation. Some 23 schools all had white students or a majority of white students and 17 all had black students or a majority of black students in the early 1960s.
The flight of Gary’s white and black residents due to discrimination and unemployment has caused Gary’s school enrollment to plummet from over 49,000 students in the early 1960s to less than 5,000 last year .
Coleman complains that the state has also allowed the opening of private charter schools in Gary to compete with the public school system for declining student numbers.
Coleman argues that declining enrollments and state-imposed property tax cuts on US Steel and other heavy industries have deprived public education of needed revenue.
The Times reported in 2017 that Gary Schools ran an annual budget deficit of $ 22 million. State officials justified its takeover of the city’s schools by local authorities as necessary to impose fiscal liability on the school district.
MGT Consulting, a for-profit company based in Tampa, Florida, took over the school’s operations.
State officials reported earlier this year that they have reduced both the annual budget deficit as well as the district’s long-term debt.
Coleman said Monday that Gary’s public schools remain in a financial and academic crisis that should be given to voters in Gary to elect a local school board.
Parents need local school board members who they can talk to and who would run their affairs in a constitutional and transparent manner.
“Currently residents of Gary are taxed without representation in their schools,” Coleman said.