GARY, Ind. (AP) — The cash-strapped Gary school district is aiming to prevent its student population from shrinking further in the new school year by instituting longer class days for elementary students, adding more computers and updating the northwestern Indiana district's cafeterias.
The changes that will be in place when classes begin Aug. 13 are part of a push to hold onto current students and lure others to return to the struggling school district, which has lost thousands of students to charter schools, The Post-Tribune reported.
State-appointed emergency manager Peggy Hinckley has been running the district for the past year as it faces an estimated $98 million in debt.
Hinckley said the district is in the middle of an enrollment campaign that includes door-to-door flyers, calls to parents, and social media posts. School infrastructure upgrades and new technology are also underway.
"We are buying $1.7 million of laptops because children need them," Hinckley said. "We spent several hundred thousand dollars on new books, upgraded the cafeteria food service equipment, and facilities in general."
She said elementary school days have also been extended by half an hour and will now last 6 hours and 45 minutes.
The district had about 4,700 students enrolled last year, while almost 5,500 students attended charter schools and another 1,800 attended schools outside the city or state voucher-financed private schools.
Hinckley's first year as the district's emergency manager included staffing cuts as well as the closing of a visual and performing arts school.
Increasing enrollment will have the biggest impact on improving the district's bottom line, said former state senator Earline Rogers, a retired Gary teacher who chairs the fiscal management board.
"We need to have an emphasis on bringing students in Gary back to our school corporation," said Rogers. "We need to let parents and the community know what's going to be different."