Future of Schools

Merging with John Marshall is IPS' top choice for Arlington's future

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School is one of three schools the administration recommends closing

If it was up to Indianapolis Public Schools, the district would opt to merge John Marshall and Arlington high schools for the 2015-16 school year.

The idea was presented as Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s favorite of three options he presented to an Indiana State Board of Education committee for what to do with Arlington High School next year. The school was taken over by the state in 2012 after six straight years of F grades for poor test scores but Tindley Schools, a charter school network brought in to run the school, said this summer it wants out of managing the school.

Ferebee said the best solution is to give IPS control over Arlington again, arguing a merger with John Marshall was an opportunity to offer students improved learning opportunities and better use the district’s building space.

“We believe (merging) provides a win for both John Marshall and Arlington communities,” Ferebee said. “And we believe that this particular option also provides greater consistency for students.”

Although Tindley and IPS worked out a deal for the 2014-15 school year, Tindley has said it cannot afford to keep running Arlington. State board members were surprised no one from Tindley attended the meeting, saying they had hoped to hear ideas from the network for transitioning Arlington to new management.

A network official said that was not the right role for Tindley to play.

“Until the state board decides how to transition Arlington High School, any predictions from Tindley on how a transition might work are premature,” spokeswoman Bev Rella said in a statement.

Merging the East side high schools would allow Arlington to grow its enrollment enough to better support the costs of its building, Ferebee said. Arlington today serves about 300 students, and adding John Marshall’s roughly 1,100 students would bring the school closer to its 2,000-student capacity.

John Marshall’s building, Ferebee said, was originally designed as a middle school and can’t offer students the amenities the more recently renovated Arlington could. If merged, the school likely would still serve grades seven through 12.

John Marshall has had similarly poor academic performance but narrowly avoided state takeover in 2012. Instead, the school was assigned a “lead partner,” or an outside group support the improvement efforts of the principal and staff.

But community members were surprised when the option to close John Marshall was suggested last month. Some said the transition would be too difficult for students and asked for more time for a new principal to make changes.

The details of the other suggested plans, which don’t involve closing John Marshall, are as follows:

  • Use a new law, created earlier this year by House Bill 1321, to encourage charter schools to partner with IPS to run the school. The goal would be for the new operator to attract at least 700 students to Arlington for 2015-16. This plan would likely remove Arlington from state takeover.
  • Close Arlington in 2015-16, sending students to other schools with an invitation to transfer back when it re-opens in 2016-17, possibly with a different grade configuration than seventh through 12th that it serves today.

Merging is also preferred, Ferebee said, because it helps IPS better estimate the future enrollment of the school, making financial planning easier and more stable.

Charter Schools USA, a charter network that already runs three schools in IPS, said it would consider taking over management of Arlington.

“If it’s better to work this through with IPS, we would support that as well and get right behind that,” said John Hage, CEO of CSUSA. “It’s not for us to say what’s in the best interest of those students. We would want to have the right to earn that.”

One key question from board member Tony Walker, an attorney from Gary, was about what happens to turnaround schools after their contracts with the outside operators end. What processes are in place to make sure schools keep progressing, and how do those ideas spread throughout the rest of the district?

Perhaps, he said, the state should consider changing the law to allow the state to take over entire school districts?

“We’re running into a situation where this group now that has made progress in those schools is going to leave, and there’s nothing in place to capture the progress,” Walker said. “So I think we need some changes in the law immediately for the state board to be able to put an exit strategy or transition in place whereby IPS or Gary Community School Corporation actually gets to benefit from what’s been done over the turnaround process.”

Carole Craig, education chairwoman of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, said no matter what the district and state decide to do, the Arlington and John Marshall communities need to be involved.

“We care so much about our community, and we also, as professionals with our organizations, understand when you have urban districts, the families care so much, but they don’t have the social capital and resources to come forward as much as people would like,” Craig said. “Sometimes people interpret that as that they don’t care, but that is absolutely not true.”

The board has plans to discuss Arlington and its turnaround options at its October 15 meeting.

Making a decision sooner is better than waiting, Ferebee said.

“I think it’s great we’re having this conversation in October because that gives us an enormous amount of time to implement that planning process,” Ferebee said. “We can build relationships with students and plan transitional activities between now and the end of the year so that when school starts in August, students don’t miss a beat.”

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.