WBEZ | Gary schools http://www.wbez.org/tags/gary-schools Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Catholic schools get boost from Indiana vouchers, but critics remain http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Indy Voucher.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Just a few years ago, St. Stanislaus Catholic Elementary School in East Chicago, Indiana had fewer than a hundred students and was at risk of closing. But then in 2011 Indiana lawmakers passed a law creating the School Choice Program, which provides public money to low-income parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school. Since then St. Stanislaus, better known as &ldquo;St. Stan&rsquo;s,&rdquo;<br />has experienced a remarkable turnaround.</p><p>&ldquo;It certainly has increased our enrollment,&rdquo; St. Stan principal Mary Jane Bartley told WBEZ. &ldquo;Last year, we opened a second section of 6th graders and this year we opened a second section of third graders.&rdquo;</p><p>Enrollment at St. Stan&rsquo;s has since doubled and other private/religious schools throughout Northwest Indiana might soon get a boost as well. That&rsquo;s because Indiana lawmakers recently loosened the requirements needed for parents to become eligible to participate in the program. Sunday was the deadline for parents to sign up this year. 9,100 Hoosier students are already in the program, with a potential pool of more than a million, according to the Indiana Department of Education.</p><p>East Chicago, a small industrial city outside Chicago, is the only city in Indiana that has a majority Latino population, though African-Americans also make a up a sizable percentage. Catholic schools once dominated this city of 30,000 but as industrial jobs went away and the population dwindled most schools closed except for St. Stan&rsquo;s. But even with the added students and funds, Bartley says the school isn&rsquo;t out of the woods yet.</p><p>&ldquo;We never were able to afford, and we still cannot, school counselors or psychologists or really even teacher aides in all the classrooms,&rdquo; Bartley said. &ldquo;So, therefore, it&rsquo;s up to the classroom teacher to try to meet the needs of all children. I think our teachers are up to the task.&rdquo;<br />&nbsp;<br />Opponents of the program had challenged the constitutionality of providing taxpayer dollars to parochial schools. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the law last spring arguing that since the money is going directly to parents, there is no violation between the separation of church and state.</p><p>&ldquo;That argument has been put to bed. The (Indiana) Supreme Court ruled that it is constitutional. We&rsquo;re happy with the results,&rdquo; says Marissa Lynch, Field Director for the Indiana Choice Program. &ldquo;This is allowing parents a choice of where their child should attend school.&rdquo;</p><p>But some still worry that the program siphons away public funds from school districts.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s taking away from public education,&rdquo; Cheryl Pruitt, the Superintendent for the Gary Community School Corporation, said on WBEZ&rsquo;s Morning Shift Tuesday. Pruitt says private or religious schools are not monitored by the state the same way as public schools.</p><p>&ldquo;They are not held accountable at the same level as the public schools,&rdquo; Pruitt said.</p><p>According to Pruitt, the amount provided for each participating student, up to $4,500 depending on the family&rsquo;s annual income, often doesn&rsquo;t cover the entire cost of a private education. At some schools, the amount may cover only half of the entire tuition.</p><p>&ldquo;When we look at those really good private schools, that cost is more,&rdquo; Pruitt said.<br />But despite the costs being higher than the voucher amount, Lynch says parents are willing to chip in the additional cost to send their child to a private school.<br />Moreover, of the 9,100 families who are participating in the voucher program statewide, 81 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.</p><p>&ldquo;These are families who are making it work to go to the private schools,&rdquo; Lynch said. &ldquo;In a lot of the cases that I&rsquo;m aware of, many of the schools did keep their tuition at about $4,500 for that elementary or middle school. If the fees were more than that, the schools would have some sort of fundraising internally to have some additional scholarship for the students to meet that gap.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, the reaction from Hoosier parents has been mixed. East Chicago resident Keith Jackson uses voucher money to enroll his daughter at Bishop Noll Catholic High School in Hammond.</p><p>&ldquo;Private school is a better fit for my daughter,&rdquo; Jackson said. &ldquo;Charter or the public schools did not meet all of my daughter&rsquo;s needs.&rdquo;</p><p>But Nilda Rivera, who sends her two children to Catholic schools in Hammond, opposes the program. This despite the fact that she&rsquo;s eligible for vouchers.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s a violation of church and state,&rdquo; Rivera said. &ldquo;I think they should use that money to fix up the public school system.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ NWI bureau reporter Michael Puente on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews" target="_blank">@MikePuenteNews</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 03 Sep 2013 15:50:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/catholic-schools-get-boost-indiana-vouchers-critics-remain-108597 Gary’s 'Que Pasa!' show yanked off the air http://www.wbez.org/story/gary%E2%80%99s-que-pasa-show-yanked-air-92306 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-22/IMG_2918.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>It’s Thursday, and normally Lisette Guillen-Gardner would be getting ready to host “Que Pasa!”, an English-Spanish radio program on 88.7 FM WGVE, a public radio station owned and operated by the Gary, Indiana Community School Corporation.</p><p>The show broadcasts from the Gary Area Career Center in Gary.</p><p>The one-hour, twice weekly show is geared toward Northwest Indiana’s Latino population. Spanish pop and traditional music is mixed in with conversations on politics, business and matters of local interest.&nbsp;</p><p>Guillen-Gardnerhas co-hosted the show with her mother, Maria Guillen, for the past seven years, the last five from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.</p><p>Given much of September and October are considered “Hispanic Heritage Month,” the show’s guest list was sure to be packed.</p><p>But without much warning, “Que Pasa!” was removed from the WGVE's line up.</p><p>“Last Thursday (Sept. 15) was our last show. We were surprised to learn that would be our last show,” Guillen-Gardner told WBEZ on Wednesday. “We were told beforehand to make it a good one.”</p><p>A school district spokesperson says the change &nbsp;is one of scheduling.</p><p>But Guillen-Gardner believes it has more to do with censorship and retaliation.</p><p>In late August, Guillen-Gardner invited Tony Bennett, superintendent of schools for the State of Indiana, to be a guest on the show.</p><p>That day, Bennett was in Gary to announce that the Indiana Department of Education would be taking over Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy, an underachieving high school in Gary.</p><p>Roosevelt was one of five high schools that Bennett announced would be taken over by the State of Indiana for poor performance; the other four are in Indianapolis.</p><p>“Que Pasa!” had an exclusive with Bennett, or so it seemed.</p><p>Guillen-Gardner says Gary schools superintendent Myrtle Campbell and schools spokeswoman Sarita Stevens, who doubles as WGVE’s station manager, took her into a room before the show.&nbsp;</p><p>She says they told &nbsp;her not to talk about the school takeover plan with Bennett.</p><p>“I told them if Dr. Bennett allowed me to talk about that and allows me to do so, I’m going to ask him about that. Dr. Campbell said ‘No you’re not. You’re not going to ask him anything about the Roosevelt turnaround,’” Guillen-Gardner claims.</p><p>Even though she did not ask Bennett about the takeover, Guillen-Gardner believes the incident is what led to the show being cancelled.</p><p>Stevens denies she or Myrtle Campbell asked Guillen-Gardner not to ask Bennett a certain question.</p><p>In fact she says, Bennett has been on the station several times.</p><p>“Lisette and them aren’t the first ones to bring him on and they won’t be the last,” Stevens said.</p><p>Stevens says the show’s cancellation had to do with Guillen-Gardner refusing to move to a new time slot.</p><p>“It’s very unfortunate that they have no sensibility in terms of where they want to be placed. They don’t want to be placed in any other time bracket except for 8 o’clock,” Stevens said. “This is radio. This is media. Sometimes there have to make compromises. In media, sometimes your program is moved.”</p><p>Guillen-Gardner says Stevens mentioned briefly the idea of moving the show to a later time slot.</p><p>But she says because she runs her own business and volunteers to host “Que Pasa!”, moving the show from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays to 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. would interfere with her business.&nbsp; She owns a public relations and bilingual translation firm based in Merrillville, Indiana.</p><p>“I strongly feel this is about politics and censorship,” she said.</p><p>Stevens denies the allegations made by Guillen-Gardner.</p><p>“I’m offended by the lie,” Stevens said.</p><p>Stevens says the district is looking for another Latino group or host to fill the time slot left by “Que Pasa!” because she is committed to&nbsp; diverse programming.</p><p>Maria Guillen says she feels bad for their Latino listenership in Northwest Indiana who depended on the show for information on the community.</p><p>“We had a big audience. The non-profits would come in and do PSAs (public service announcements),” Guillen said. “This was the only way people found out. And we’d do it in Spanish. So, the community has lost out.”</p></p> Fri, 23 Sep 2011 04:44:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/gary%E2%80%99s-que-pasa-show-yanked-air-92306 Gary schools snag federal cash, but with strings attached http://www.wbez.org/story/gary-schools-snag-federal-cash-strings-attached-90089 <p><p>Wednesday turned out to be a bittersweet day for at least two struggling public schools in Gary, Indiana. Both got news that federal help is on the way to improve student achievement, but that help comes with a cost.</p><p>On the plus side, the Indiana Department of Education announced the pair will split $3.1 million through the federal School Improvement Grant program.</p><p>The first is Bailly Prep Academy, an elementary school that is struggling to boost state standardized test scores. The second is Lew Wallace Tech, a high schools that’s been dogged by low test scores as well as dismal graduation rates. Barely half of all Lew Wallace seniors graduated in 2009, according to <a href="http://mustang.doe.state.in.us/SEARCH/benchmark.cfm?subnum=11&amp;hidden=4029&amp;ip95=checked&amp;istavg=checked&amp;colobg=FFFFFF">state figures.</a></p><p>Indiana Department of Education spokesman Alex Demron says both Gary schools have demonstrated a sincere attempt at improving, and that counts when it comes to securing federal grants. The U.S. Department of Education requires applicants to adopt one of the following four reform models: turnaround, transformational, restart or closure.</p><p>Both Bailly and Lew Wallace chose the turnaround model, which will involve pain for school staff. Demron says both schools have to replace half their teachers and, perhaps, their principals, too.</p><p>“When you’re looking at the performance of your school, you’re taking a look at essentially your ability to drive quality instruction to kids,” Demron told WBEZ.&nbsp; “And you’re trying to create an atmosphere that enables you to do that.”</p><p>Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy, another struggling high school in Gary, failed to obtain funds through the program. Roosevelt is currently on academic probation.</p><p>When asked why Roosevelt did not receive federal grants as well, Demron would only say the schools that received grants had produced applications that demonstrated firm commitments to improve student achievement.</p><p>Gary Public School Corporation is facing a $13 million budget deficit, which has forced it to cut teaching positions and programs. Letting go teachers at both schools could inflame an already tenuous relationship between school officials and the Gary Teachers Union.&nbsp;</p><p>Two schools in Indianapolis and one in Evansville will also receive federal School Improvement Grants.</p></p> Wed, 03 Aug 2011 21:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/gary-schools-snag-federal-cash-strings-attached-90089 Gary's property tax nightmare http://www.wbez.org/story/garys-property-tax-nightmare-89631 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-25/Holland Stansil of Gary and his son.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Cities and towns of every size and scope are scrambling to make ends meet lately. Some are raising property taxes to pay for services, things like keeping cops on the beat and educating kids.&nbsp;Gary, Indiana, is in that situation, but it’s in a tangle. First, the state won’t let the city raise property taxes and, what’s worse, a good chunk of the public’s not paying up anyway.</p><p>It’s that time of year when local governments in Northwest Indiana review their budgets to see what they can or can’t pay in the coming months.&nbsp;So, government entities - cities, schools, sanitary districts - are all playing a kind of budgeting game, and it goes like this:&nbsp;The county sends out property tax bills, and the governments hope to collect, but they don’t collect 100 percent of what’s due.</p><p>CAMPBELL: You can never really set the budget at the level that you’d like in order to provide the services for your students because you’re really not certain of what will occur.<br> <br> That’s Myrtle Campbell, superintendent of Gary’s public school system.<br> <br> CAMPBELL: You try to do an estimate to ensure that you’re not cutting those programs that are dear to our children and their individual needs.<br> <br> The problem is, the lower the property tax collection rate, the higher the risk to Gary’s own city government, its public schools, its libraries, even its sewers.&nbsp;The low collection rate is starving these governments.&nbsp;It’s one reason Gary’s laid off firefighters, garbage collection crews.. In all, some 400 city employees in the last five years. &nbsp;<br> <br> And the school district?&nbsp;Well, let’s say the low tax collection rate has got Campbell sweating this summer.<br> <br> CAMPBELL: Anytime it’s below the 80 percent or 90 percent, of course it does affect our tax-based funds. &nbsp;Then, dollars that are coming from that fund to support programs, then there’s a downsizing of those programs as well.<br> <br> Here’s the practical effect: This summer alone, Campbell’s had to ditch a music band camp and other activities involving science, health and mathematics.&nbsp;She’s made some layoffs already and she’s considering more because she’s dealing with a $13 million budget deficit.&nbsp;If the collection rate were high, she could breathe easier.<br> <br> But like it does in most years, the county is expected to collect less from Gary property owners than it does from any other city in the county.<br> <br> The exact figure is&nbsp;72.4 percent, the&nbsp;worst of any Indiana city or town.&nbsp;And, if you do a deeper dive into the numbers, you find nearly all businesses in Gary pay their taxes,&nbsp;but one in three Gary homeowners does not.<br> <br> This figure doesn’t surprise Darien Hayes of Gary’s Ambridge neighborhood, but it still disappoints her.<br> <br> DARIEN HAYES: You can’t live anywhere else close by and not pay your property taxes. The city entities and the municipalities just won’t let you do that but we let it happen here. They need to pay some measures in place to make them pay their fair share.<br> <br> Fifteen years ago, Darien and her husband Russell built their gem of a two-story brick home just a few blocks from a stretch of bordered up houses.<br> <br> What galls them is that they’re paying $4,000 a year in property taxes while living in Gary.&nbsp;If they lived in a more affluent city, they’d pay half as much and get more services.&nbsp;Darien Hayes says she sends her daughter out of Gary for summer activities, and they drive her 15 miles to school because the local elementary got shut down.<br> <br> DARIEN: Not happy. We’re not happy. RUSSELL: The city has constantly taken away services from us. So many different things that we do not get for the tax dollars that we pay.<br> <br> Darien’s husband Russell has a theory about why the county collects so little property tax in Gary.<br> <br> RUSSELL HAYES: If they don’t pay, they simply don’t pay. There are no things set in place to say if you don’t pay we’re going to take ownership of that property. They simply don’t do it. Apparently it’s not important enough around here.<br> <br> The full truth is a bit harder to get a handle on.&nbsp;Yes, county and city officials say there are property tax scofflaws, but economic figures suggest Gary has a fair number of property owners who can’t pay.&nbsp;Gary’s unemployment rate is 13.1 percent, or five percent higher than the rest of Indiana.<br> <br> STANSIL: If they don’t have the money or don’t have a job, what else can you do?<br> <br> Holland Stansil says he can sympathize with people who are out of jobs.&nbsp;After all, he's got some income from his railroad work, and he still has problems paying his share. &nbsp;<br> <br> STANSIL: The property taxes are too high in Gary. They are putting all the property taxes on the homeowners instead of on the companies like the steel mills. I couldn’t even pay the tax bill and that helped me get behind on my mortgage too.<br> <br> People have a lot of opinions about the property tax collection problem in Gary … but ultimately, the buck stops with one elected official:&nbsp;Lake County Treasurer John Petalas.<br> <br> Petalas says he doesn’t particularly like the fact that collections from Gary are so meager compared to other areas on his watch.&nbsp;He tries to collect, but his hands are tied.<br> <br> PETALAS: You mail the bill and if they don’t pay we fine them and we go through a collection process and we put judgments on their properties and that’s as far as the law lets us go.<br> <br> Petalas says he can hit non-compliant property owners with a penalty.&nbsp;But there’s a problem with that, too.&nbsp;The penalty doesn’t have teeth, it just gets tacked onto the original tax bill and makes non-payment worse.<br> <br> Right now, if a Lake County property owner wants to pay the original tax, the owner is still held liable for the penalty.&nbsp;Petalas figures some property owners would come forward and pay something, if only he could give them a break.<br> <br> PETALAS: The law does not allow any treasurer to waive those penalties.<br> <br> So Petalas lobbied Indiana State lawmakers to approve a one-time property tax penalty “amnesty.”&nbsp;The idea’s to grab at least some of the $129 million the county leaves on the table, much of which would go to Gary.<br> <br> PETALAS: The county and all the municipalities that are losing out on this money will be able to work with these funds that they’ve been missing for years.<br> <br> But Petalas’ efforts have largely been ignored by the powers that be in the Indiana state Senate.<br> <br> PETALAS: They wouldn’t even consider it. I got a phone call her from Luke Kenley and he basically humored me on the phone for about three minutes and that was the end of that.<br> <br> KENLEY: Gary has always seen itself as a free standing state within the state of Indiana I think.<br> <br> That’s Luke Kenley, chairman of the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee.&nbsp;Kenley’s a Republican from near Indianapolis. He’s famous for writing the law that caps Indiana property tax rates.&nbsp;That cap is now in the state’s constitution.<br> <br> Kenley says when it comes to a tax penalty amnesty, he says Lake County could do itself and Gary a favor by implementing an income tax.&nbsp;In other words, Gary should look for a fix closer to home.<br> <br> KENLEY: It would be helpful probably to have legislators from that specific area say look, here is our problem, here is a solution we’d like to pursue, and that really hasn’t happened yet on any extended basis.<br> <br> There’s no sense that the tax collection problem in the Democratic stronghold of Lake County, Indiana, and Gary specifically is going to get a lot of traction in the Republican-controlled Indiana State House.&nbsp;But Petalas isn’t giving up. &nbsp;<br> <br> PETALAS: I’ll try again next year but I think this legislature is a lot more difficult to work with than previous ones and I don’t know how far it would get. &nbsp;<br> <br> Petalas says, that’s why property tax season is such a demoralizing grind, and not just for Gary taxpayers, but for public officials who are supposed to serve them, too.</p></p> Wed, 27 Jul 2011 03:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/garys-property-tax-nightmare-89631