IPS partnership to co-manage Emma Donnan in doubt

A charter school company may be backing away from a plan that would return some control over Emma Donnan Middle School more than two years after it entered state takeover to Indianapolis Public Schools.

IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said tonight that confusion over whether the Indiana State Board of Education is willing to hand back control of takeover schools to their home districts caused the Florida company to pitch an alternative plan that would instead give the state board direct oversight of an expansion at the South side school.

That would mean asking the state board to vote to allow Charter Schools USA to expand Emma Donnan into a K-8 school overseen by the state board. Under a less direct partnership, the school would still work with IPS and the district could count the school’s test scores under the state A to F accountability system. In return, IPS would help the charter school recruit students in lower grades to the school.

“CSUSA has changed a little in terms of their messaging on what the partnership may look like,” Ferebee told the IPS school board. “They’re probably responding to the state board. I personally would rather see us try to handle it together versus apart, but if we can’t get there, we can’t get there.”

Charter Schools USA, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, first pitched partnering with the district to create an “innovation school” under under a law created last year by House Bill 1321. That law gives IPS special authority to create autonomous, charter-like schools under the district’s authority.

The company said under its proposal “takeover schools can be transitioned back to the school corporation over time without jeopardizing progress that has been made by the turnaround provider and without major disruption to the community.”

The IPS board informally backed that plan, since it would mean IPS would get back some control over a school that was taken over by the state for poor test performance in 2012 and formally severed from the district’s oversight But state board members balked at completely ending state takeover.

IPS’s attoreny, Hud Pfeiffer, said even though the school wouldn’t be considered an innovation school, IPS would still have more control if it backs the partnership.

Meanwhile, he noted, lawmakers are considering in House Bill 1638, which could expand state takeover. That bill, authored by Republican Rep. Bob Behning, passed the House Ways and Means committee today and could go to the House floor for a final vote this week.

Pfeiffer said talks are continuing, and the state board has the final say over what happens. IPS expects the state board to take up the matter at its March meeting.

Ferebee urged IPS board members to back even the slimmed down partnership — or he said the decision would likely be made for them.

“We’re at a point where we can either bring something to the State Board of Education or we can be uninvited from the conversation,” Ferebee said. “I think what we’re trying to do is be proactive to make sure we’re a part of the conversation. Based on the legislation that’s already been proposed, the train has already left the station. We need to decide at some point to make sure we are on board or not.”