Updated Jan. 15 at 4:15 p.m.
The State Board of Education ended the takeover of Gary's Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy today. The intervention of the school was approved in 2011 due to years of chronic academic failure.
Tony Walker, a board member from Gary, said it was time to immediately return the school to control of the Gary Community School Corporation and let its leaders decide what's best for the students. The board agreed and voted 10-0. Board member David Freitas was absent.
The Florida-based Edison Learning began operating Theodore Roosevelt in mid-2012.
During the past few years, heating and other infrastructure issues at Roosevelt have forced students out of the building a few times. These problems correspond with shrinking enrollment and some of the lowest standardized test scores in the state. The 2019 graduation rate was 49 percent.
In 2017 the company signed a joint operating agreement with Gary Community Schools Corp. The so-called “innovation partnership” was intended to offer a less severe form of intervention for the school and give the Gary school district more control of Rosevelt's operations through 2022.
That agreement remains between the company and the school district. Today's vote will end the state funding agreement for student tuition between Edison and the state. Now, the district and company can renegotiate the funding terms of the innovation agreement without asking for approval from the State Board of Education.
State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick says the goal for any takeover should be to get the school back to its home district "if they are ready and have the capacity. That should be the goal."
The State Board of Education's vote to end the Roosevelt takeover does not impact the state's intervention for the entire district.
In 2017 state lawmakers approved the takeover of Gary Community Schools due to massive debt. The state gave MGT Consulting Group, based in Tallahassee, Florida, a $6.2 million contract to serve as Gary's emergency manager. The district is overseen by the state's Distressed Unit Appeal Board.
No representatives from MGT Consulting Group attended the board meeting.
“I am glad we are at that point. It is the right move for Gary. Every individual school needs to be
looked at. I’ve been to Gary. I understand the facility issues," McCormick says. "I also understand Gary Community Schools has a long way to go. But I know for right now, where we are with that partnership, it is the right move.”
In March 2019, water pipes in Roosevelt burst during a subzero winter storm. It caused more than $10 million in damages at the school and forced classes out of the building.
Roosevelt students now attend class in the Gary Area Career Center, a technical education school run by the Gary school district. That location won’t be available for Roosevelt students after this academic year.
Last month, Edison Learning leaders said they had plans to repair the Roosevelt building with $25 million in private funds and transform it into a K-12 environmental studies charter school. It's unclear who would provide that money.
After the board vote, Marshall Emerson, Roosevelt superintendent, and Principal Joshua Batchelor, appeared to say that was still a possibility. In a joint statement they called it "the only plan that maintains the existence of Theodore Roosevelt."
"We have every intention to work diligently and collaboratively with the Gary Community School Corporation, as we have in the past, to ensure that the students of Theodore Roosevelt have a quality education, and that all of our actions and decisions will be made with what is in the best interest of your children being first and foremost," their statement said.
The 2017 "innovation agreement" between Edison Learning and Gary Schools returned the enrollment count and academic scores of Roosevelt students to the district and allowed the company to share some costs and services with the district. Edison Learning remains in charge of academics and programs for students through 2022.
This story has been updated.