Ferebee: Reduce animosity between IPS and charters

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee Wednesday asked Indiana state senators to help tear down walls of suspicion and distrust between the district and the city’s charter schools by approving a bill he said would promote cooperation.

House Bill 1321 gives IPS the authority to hand empty building space over for charter schools to use, or it can hire charter school operators or others to run an IPS school with charter-like independence. Called “innovation schools,” these partnerships would allow IPS to count their test scores in its district averages in return for space in its buildings and possibly services like transportation or special education resources.

The bill, which applies only to IPS, give the district a long-coveted lever it can use to guide the location of some charter schools and a way to share state aid, or perhaps even outside grants that charter schools receive. For charter school operators, building space, transportation and other services are among their most vexing costs.

But Ferebee said the biggest advantage of the bill was the opportunity for greater collaboration among different types of schools in Indianapolis.

“We essentially have two systems of education for our students in Indianapolis, traditional public schools and charter schools, and there is no communication or collaboration between the two,” Ferebee told the Senate Education Committee Wednesday. “It has been a system of animosity. That deeply concerns me.”

Ferebee, who joined IPS in September, said cooperation can better serve more students in IPS and across the city.

“At the end of the day we have obligation to give students a high quality education,” he said. “I’m not concerned with who provides the opportunity. I am concerned that students have those opportunities. We are serving the same students and same families. Ultimately we are utilizing the same resources.”

Teachers unions, however, remain wary.

The bill allows charter operators or other outside managers to hire the teachers at schools they run, even if they remain IPS schools. That means fewer teachers on IPS’s payroll — and under the protection of its union contract — and more teachers working for non-union, and generally lower paying, charter school organizations.

Sally Sloan of the American Federation of Teachers said the bill, in effect, just turns IPS schools into charter schools.

“They might be called ‘charter-like’ schools but they have all the power and all the rights of charter schools so I think they’re charter schools,” she said.

Gail Zaheralis of the Indiana State Teachers Association said the bill seems aimed primarily at teachers.

“Teachers will be employed by a different entity,” she said. “The rest of the arrangement stays with in IPS. It seems to be somewhat unfair and certainly targeting issues that may not be directly student-centered.”

The committee expects to vote on the bill, which has already passed the House, next week.

Other bills that moved forward in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday include:

  • Career and technical education. House Bill 1064, which creates a study of the return on investment of career and technical education programs in Indiana, passed 9-0.
  • Expanded background checks. House Bill 1233, requiring school employees receive an expanded background check every five years, passed 8-1.
  • High ability students. House Bill 1319, requiring more reporting from schools about students who score in the high ability range on ISTEP, passed 9-0.