Discontent voiced over Gary school chief hiring process

Discontent voiced over Gary school chief hiring process

The Gary School Board’s state-mandated public hearing on the proposed new superintendent’s contract drew a raft of criticism from skeptical attendees, including some who expected to hear the identity of the chosen candidate.

Board chairman Michael Suggs said the board is expected to vote on the contract at a 3 p.m. meeting on June 7 at the Gary Area Career Center. He didn’t know if the candidate planned to attend.

School board members didn’t address the comments, although their attorney said the board couldn’t discuss personnel issues.

Tracy Coleman speaks during the Gary school board’s community meeting about a proposed new superintendent on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Gary. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Post-Tribune)

Suggs said he wasn’t surprised at the outcry, but he was “disappointed.” He said the new superintendent’s name was withheld because the candidate wanted to remain confidential until the hiring was official.

“Personnel matters are confidential … you cannot disclose that kind of information,” said board attorney Michael Tolbert. “The board chose the road of confidentiality to protect the superintendent’s safety and to make sure the process is unhindered. The board has done nothing illegal by keeping the name of the superintendent confidential.”

Gary hasn’t had a superintendent or elected school board with governing authority since 2017 when large budget deficits and accumulated debt prompted the state to take control of it and install a private education emergency management team.

Gary school board chair Michael Suggs, listens during a community meeting about the proposed new superintendent on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Gary. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Post-Tribune)

The district’s debt has been erased and it’s expected to be released from state control July 1. At that time, its appointed school board and new superintendent will gain governing authority as the state steps back.

Some speakers blurted out the name of a suspected candidate, even suggesting they had received contract buyouts from two previous posts. After the meeting, Suggs declined to confirm any candidate’s name, describing the speculation as “rumors” in the community.

“The real way you get buy-in from the community is to welcome the community in,” said Michaela Spangenberg. “You have shut the community out of this process, the rumors are the byproduct of what you’ve created. You are undercutting the community’s faith in the superintendent.”

Gary school board member Dr. Vanessa Allen-McCloud listens during a community meeting about the unnamed new superintendent on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Gary. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Post-Tribune)

Gary educator Roy Hamilton said he moved from Hammond to Gary because of its school system. “I ask whoever the superintendent is that we don’t tear that person down. Give that person a chance to succeed. We’ve gone through superintendents, and we’ve bought out contracts. It’s a waste of money.”

Christine Sass told the board the $215,000 proposed salary “seems out of whack,” when compared to other districts with similar enrollments.

She applauded the $5,000 bonuses for improvement in academics, finances, and enrollment but suggested the $215,000 salary should be reduced and the incentives raised.

Anthony Johnson, a student at West Side, with his aunt Nkosazana Boyd by his side, speaks to the Gary school board during a community meeting, on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Gary. (Vincent D. Johnson/for the Post-Tribune)

Retired Gary teacher Carolyn McCrady said the new school leader should focus on career pathways, providing each student with a goal to foster their interest in school.

“Link students to resources and curriculum so they can grow,” she said.

Shelley Fisher said she hopes the new superintendent has a special focus on reading, as well as external and internal communication. She voiced support for the return of a citywide PTA.

“I hope we have a system in which parents can come to school and observe unobtrusively. We cannot have an administration that does not involve our parents… We want to be on the cutting edge and right now we’re not at the point.”

Nikki Byrd said the district needs services to help children. She asked if the new superintendent would live in Gary. “Our children are being totally dismissed like they don’t mean anything at all.”

As emergency manager MGT Consulting exits, Robert Coleman said there should be a forensic audit done on finances.

“The reason why the community is so upset is we have been kept in the dark for over five years. That’s why our community is in such an uproar. Whoever the superintendent is, I pray they come in strong and you all work together as a team…”

His wife, attorney Tracy Coleman, who once represented the school board, held up a large photograph of the West Side Leadership Center and said the district could boost its enrollment by repairing its dormant swimming pool and adding a fieldhouse.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.