Clark Middle/High School in Whiting is 1 of the 2 high schools set to close in the Hammond (Ind.) district.

Hammond (Ind.) board votes to close 2 of its 4 high schools

Nov. 26, 2019
District leaders say drastic measures are needed to improve finances and avoid a state takeover.

The Hammond (Ind.) school board has voted to close two of its four high schools in 2021.

The Northwest Indiana Times reports that by closing Clark Middle/High School in Whiting and Gavit Middle/High School in Hammond, the district hopes it can improve its finances enough to avoid a state takeover.

"We are in dire straits," Board Vice President Carlotta Blake-King says.

The board's vote triggered cries of "Shame on you!" and "You lied to us!" from dozens of Hammond residents who stormed out of the meeting.

"It's just not fair," says Joanne Dybel, a third-generation alumna of city schools. "I don't think they're taking the kids into consideration."

Superintendent Scott Miller says the state asked district leaders to prepare a plan for financial solvency to avoid a state takeover — similar to what has been seen in the Gary Community School Corp. and Muncie Community Schools.

"I want to avoid state takeover," Miller says. "I do not want to become run by private companies. You can look in Gary and in Muncie, you can look at results of those decisions....I earnestly desire, as superintendent, to avoid that at all costs."

Miller's recommendations call for shuttering the two high schools and moving sixth-grade students into the district's 12 elementary buildings.

The plan is projected to save nearly $36 million in operational and capital spending over the next five years in the district.

Miller said earlier this year that the district was looking at a $10.2 million deficit in 2020 if no operational changes were made. The district began making reductions over the summer — cutting dozens of staff positions and closing Columbia, Lafayette and Miller schools. So far, those changes have resulted in more than $6 million in operational savings.

But the district is still on a path to lose $2 million in both 2021 and 2022 if school leaders make no additional operation changes.

Hammond has had four high schools for the last 50 years despite an enrollment decline of more than 11,500 high school students in that time—from 23,745 in 1969-70 to 12,230 in 2019-20, according to figures presented by the superintendent.

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