CSUSA gets OK to open a charter school in Indy

Florida-based Charter Schools USA, which operates three Indianapolis schools under contract with the state, earned a cautious go-ahead today to open a charter schoo,l possibly on Indianapolis’ South side, next year.

But the company didn’t get everything it wanted.

The Indiana State Charter School Board approved a charter school for up to 1,146 students in kindergarten to eighth grade to open in the fall but put off a request for a second charter school for at least a year.

In all, the board approved three new schools: two in Indianapolis and one in Gary. Two proposals for a charter schools in Merrillville did not go forward: one was withdrawn and another denied. A proposal for a school in Bloomington also was withdrawn. Officials from the Bloomington school said they might still try to open a school next fall with a different sponsor.

The other school approved for Indianapolis, ACE Preparatory Academy, will be led by Anna Shults, a former Indiana Department of Education official and an Indiana state teacher of the year before that. She consulted with her former boss, ex-state Superintendent Tony Bennett, in developing the school but Bennett has no formal role going forward.

The State Charter School Board was created by the legislature in 2011 and quickly became one of the state’s top three charter school sponsors, along with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and Ball State University. It approves and oversees charter schools around the state.

CSUSA was brought in by the Indiana State Board of Education — which is separate from the state charter board — to manage three Indianapolis Public Schools: Donnan Middle School and Howe and Manual high schools. Those schools were eligible for state takeover in 2012 because they earned F grades for low test scores for six consecutive years.

CSUSA came to Indiana promising to expand by opening charter schools but so far it has not done so. It recently forged a deal with IPS to run a separate K-6 school within Donnan, but that will be a district school, not a charter school.

Charter schools are free public schools supported by taxpayer dollars but run independently of local school districts.
The South side school will be overseen by an Indiana-based governing board, which plans to hire CSUSA to operate it.

Board members and staff shared the same concern about CSUSA: that some of its schools serving students most at risk for failure perform worse than nearby traditional schools, even if, overall, the company’s schools had better performance in most places.

Board member Karega Rausch, who once oversaw the city’s stable of charter schools for Ballard, said he was concerned that board members for the Indianapolis school said they had not seen anything to be concerned about in the performance of any CSUSA schools.

“That gives me a little bit of pause,” he said.

CSUSA can open one school this fall, either on the South side of Indianapolis or in Clark County.

If the school does well, executive director Nick LeRoy said, the board could give the go ahead for the second school next year. CSUSA wanted to open both schools this year.