a thousand cuts

Saved from "turnaround," Grady faces new threats to existence

Grady Principal Geraldine Maione stands in front of a mural painted by students in a "transformation"-funded arts program.

In a normal year, William E. Grady Career and Technical Education High School would be preparing to enroll a ninth-grade class of about 350 students. But this hasn’t been a normal year.

The high school directory distributed to eighth-graders in September listed the school as having a “D” on its city progress report, even though Grady’s 2010 grade would be updated to a B in October. In December, the school’s federal funding was cut off after the city and teachers union failed to agree on new teacher evaluations. The next month, Mayor Bloomberg surprised school staff by announcing that Grady would be one of 33 schools to close and reopen under an overhaul program known as “turnaround.”

Then, in April, after months of raucous protests and appeals to the state’s top education leaders, Grady was yanked from the turnaround list, along with six other schools that had top grades on their city progress reports. The school would open this fall as usual.

Except that it won’t. Grady has just 150 students on its ninth-grade roster for the fall, and fewer students means fewer dollars to spend — in Grady’s case, about $3.5 million. Officials at Grady are planning to cut teachers loose, cancel after-school programs, and dismantle some of the supports that Principal Geraldine Maione said helped the school improve enough to stay open.

No longer will there be after-school clubs in robotics and chess, and teachers won’t be able to be paid to work an extended-day program for students who want to take additional courses in music and dance. With a career and technical education focus, Grady has never been able to offer a full complement of arts courses, so the clubs offered students a rare chance for a rounded education, Maione said.

Those programs were funded with millions of dollars in federal funds that the school received in 2010 and 2011 to support “transformation,” a less aggressive federally prescribed overhaul process. The funds, which were supposed to continue through next year, were essential to lifting the school’s performance statistics, Maione said. The four-year graduation rate has hovered around 50 percent in recent years, but in Maione’s first year at the school, the school earned heaps of extra credit from the city as more students made faster progress.

After early uncertainly, Department of Education officials now say they intend to replace transformation funds for the nine schools that had been receiving them and are no longer set for turnaround. But schools haven’t seen their budgets for next year, so Maione said she isn’t counting on the extra funds yet. And the $1.4 million in transformation funds would not come close to making up for the enrollment drop. Two hundred students would bring about $3.5 million to the school.

“We still haven’t heard anything about the funding, but for me it doesn’t matter,” Maione said last week. “Half of my staff is going to be gone. I can’t start anything new.”

It’s an issue that many of the schools wrapped up in the turnaround saga are anticipating. Indeed, enrollment is down at 40 percent of the 17 schools set to undergo turnaround this summer, according to the Department of Education. (An equal number are set to see enrollment rise.) Officials declined to provide details about the size of the enrollment changes or about enrollment at schools such as Grady that are no longer set to undergo turnaround.

For many of the schools, enrollment has been slipping for years. But it can’t have helped that the mayor himself identified them as struggling in January and held a series of high-profile public hearings and even raucous demonstrations — even as eighth-graders were finalizing and refining their high school applications.

A schedule of Grady's clubs and activities this year. Only a few of the activities are likely to continue next year amid an enrollment decline.

Declining enrollment costs schools hard dollars — and it also keeps them on the city’s closure radar. The Department of Education frequently cites student demand as a key consideration when deciding which schools to shutter and replace.

But the alternative to losing students isn’t always appealing, either. Students who are new to the city, transferring, or returning from incarceration or drop-out get assigned to whatever high schools have open seats. Several schools that have landed on the chopping block have argued — unsuccessfully — that large numbers of the needy “over-the-counter” students have doomed them to poor performance.

For Grady, there have been a few bright spots. The school’s “Quality Review,” which had been cancelled when Grady first landed on the turnaround roster, was rescheduled — for the first two days back from the Memorial Day break, at a time when high schools have already turned from regular instruction to prep for this month’s Regents exams. Maione was able to convince department officials to jettison the middle school administrator set to review the school in favor of someone with high school experience, then to shift the date to the fall.

But for the most part, school officials are hunkering down for a rough landing this fall. Maione is spending the waning days of the school year helping junior teachers land interviews at other schools. Her top assistants are concerned about the toll the fight for survival has taken on her and fear that she won’t return in the fall, even though she has promised to.

“My greatest worry is the principal,” said Spencer Holder, an assistant principal who said the school had become a more collaborative and student-oriented place to work since Maione’s 2010 arrival.

He added, “She’s been doing turnaround without turnaround. … But she has planted the type of seeds where we will be able to sustain what she put under her tutelage.”

budget debate

Under the House budget plan, suburban districts would get more money while some urban districts would get less

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Kindergarteners using the computer at IPS School 90.

Suburban schools, English-learners and virtual schools would fare well under the Indiana House’s 2017 budget plan, while Indianapolis Public Schools and other urban districts would see drops in state support.

In the Republican-crafted two-year budget draft, presented to the House Ways and Means Committee today, Indiana schools are projected to get an extra $273 million to support student learning, a 2.8 percent increase overall. Basic per-student funding that all districts get would also increase to $5,323 in 2019, up 4.6 percent from the $5,088 they received in 2017.

Much like in 2015, almost every district in Marion County would see a slight increase in state funding, with the largest bumps going to Beech Grove and Perry Townships. Each would get nearly 8 percent more in tuition support — the state’s contribution that funds each student’s education. Both districts’ boosts can be attributed in part to growing student populations.

Only one district in the county is expected to lose funding. IPS would see a big decline in state aid under the proposed budget, down by nearly 5 percent. That’s partially because enrollment is projected to decline over the next two years. But the largest drop would come from a reduction in the “complexity index” — extra dollars districts receive to educate poor students. That amount would fall by $9.4 million by 2019.

During her campaign, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick called for adjustments to the complexity index, but House lawmakers kept the calculation as it was. It will continue to rely on how many families qualify for food stamps, foster care and welfare programs.

Although IPS and other urban districts — such as those in Gary, East Chicago and Hammond — lose either tuition support, per-student funding or both, many township and suburban districts saw increases.

In order to cover those increases in a year when state revenues are less than expected, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the budget-making House Ways and Means Committee, said the state did have to make cuts.

The House plan axes money for teacher performance bonuses. Last year, Indiana paid $40 million for the bonuses, which varied widely from district to district. High-performing teachers from wealthier districts got as much as a few thousand dollars, while those in poorer urban districts, such as Wayne Township, received less than $50.

Brown said the priority was finding a way to increase funding for all students.

“We made the decision, especially in this tight first year, to see what we could do to boost the foundation for every child in Indiana,” Brown said.

That move is likely to see pushback from the Senate. Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he’d like to see the bonuses continue, albeit in a fairer way.

The House plan would also increase the budget for English-learners by 50 percent, going to $300 per student in 2018 and $350 per student in 2019, up from $200 per student in 2017.

Virtual charter schools, previously funded at just 90 percent of what other schools receive from the state, are bumped up to 100 percent under this plan. The proposal comes as Indiana’s online schools have struggled to find success — each one received an F from the state in 2016.

However, Brown argued they should be treated the same as other schools because “every child is equal.”

The overall $273 million boost to schools would also include an 11.3 percent increase in funding to Indiana’s taxpayer-funded voucher program, where families can use state dollars for private school tuition. Contributions are expected to move to $163 million in 2019, up from $146 million in 2017 due to higher anticipated participation.

The House plan sets aside less than what Gov. Eric Holcomb and McCormick have endorsed, but Brown said that the House’s plan — unlike Holcomb’s — is based on what was actually spent in 2017, not what lawmakers originally appropriated. State school districts enrolled fewer students than anticipated, so less money was spent.

The plan still has to pass out of Ways and Means before it heads to the full House, likely sometime next week.

The budget also includes:

  • $20 million per year for the state’s preschool program
  • $1.5 million per year for developing teacher “career pathways.”
  • $1 million per year to improve school internet access.
  • $2 million over two years for schools to use toward counseling and student support services, such as ones provided through groups like Communities In Schools.
  • $5 million over two years in incentive grants for schools and districts that consolidate services
  • $500,000 per year for dual language immersion programs
  • Kids with the most severe special needs would get a 4 percent increase in per-student funding over the next two years.
  • $12.5 million per year (up from $9.5 million) for the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship program
  • $12.5 million per year for the Charter and Innovation Network School Grant Program

Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy contributed to this story.

one hurdle down

Charter school funding bill clears Senate Education Committee

A student does classwork at James Irwin Charter Elementary School in Colorado Springs. (Denver Post file)

A bill that would require school districts to equally share money from local tax increases with charter schools cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.

Senate Bill 61 advanced out of the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote.

Supporters testified during a hearing last week that charter school students deserve equal access to taxes their parents pay each year.

Charter schools receive public money but operate independently, with greater autonomy over budgets, curriculum, and hiring and firing. Currently, it’s up to districts whether to share revenues from local tax increases with charter schools, and practices vary.

Opponents said the state would set a dangerous precedent, essentially breaking a compact between school boards and voters who approved tax increases known as mill levy overrides. Under the bill, charters would get a share from such tax measures approved by voters in the past and any that win approval in the future.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, and Sen. Angela Williams, a Denver Democrat. It is expected to win Senate approval but its future is cloudier in the Democratic-controlled House. Similar legislative efforts have failed in the past.

“What this bill is really about is the funding disparities that exist,” Williams told the Senate committee Wednesday. “Charters are public schools. They are schools that all our children attend … I don’t think any kid should be systematically underfunded because of the type of school they attend.”

Democrats on the education committee raised a number of concerns. Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat, said that while she fully supports school choice, the state has not been adequately funding the public school system.

“We are in a financial bind as a state,” Todd said. “I don’t believe that it is our role to step in and tell the local school districts what they have to do and how they are going to spend their money. Where does that stop?”

Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, who represents portions of Jefferson County, said she struggled with the bill. She too cited the financial pressures on districts, which continue to face shortfalls under Colorado’s complicated school funding system.

“I really feel at this time I can’t tie the hands of my local district people with another mandate from the state,” she said.

Sen. Tim Neville echoed other Republicans in saying he supports the bill to bring equality to school funding. He also pointed out that mill levy overrides approved by voters this fall included no language excluding charter schools.

The committee vote was 4-3, with Republicans Hill, Neville, Bob Gardner and Kevin Priola voting yes, and Democrats Todd, Zenzinger and Mike Merrifield voting no.