Chamber study suggests IPS reduce staff, sell buildings, share space

The building that houses Key Learning Community, on the banks of the White River just west of downtown, should be evaluated for possible sale, an Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce report states. (Scott Elliott)

If Indianapolis Public Schools is going to eliminate a projected $30 million budget deficit, it’s going to have to employ fewer people and use less building space.

That’s the bottom line of a study of the school district by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, which notes that personnel salary and benefits make up about 90 percent the school district’s roughly $263 million budget.

“There is an overarching recommendation for IPS to continuously evaluate staffing levels,” the report states. “The recommendations are designed to provide clear and actionable steps for IPS to evaluate and act upon as it seeks to overcome its budget shortfall.”

Those recommendations stop short of saying how staffing could be drawn down. It sets no target for layoffs, timelines or specifics about what employee groups could be reduced.

Instead, the report’s authors called for more study of the district’s process for creating jobs and managing employee head count. They proposed studying how IPS compared to similar school districts in other cities, such is in the number of layers and scope of supervision, student-teacher ratios and staff-teacher ratios.

IPS should “take action on unexplainable deviations from benchmarks,” the report states.

The report was prepared by a committee that included representatives from businesses, the community and the district. It was co-chaired by Eli Lilly and Co. Vice President David Lewis and Indianapolis Urban League CEO Joe Slash. The 68-page report is an advisory document, the school board is not expected to adopt the recommendations and the district is not required to follow them,

A key recommendation of the report was for IPS to find ways to better utilize its building space, including it schools.

The report notes IPS operates at about half its enrollment capacity and specifically identified five buildings the district should evaluate for possible sale because of their location or potential value. They are:

  • The central office at 120 E. Walnut St.
  • The transportation maintenance building, a former Coca-Cola plant, at 901 N. Carrollton Ave.
  • The storage facility, a former Ford assembly plant, at 1325 E. Washington St.
  • The Key Learning Community school building at 777 White River Parkway West Drive
  • Cold Spring School at 3650 Cold Spring Road

IPS could also operate more efficiently by forging partnerships to turn more of its schools into multi-use facilities. For example, schools might be able to share space with universities, businesses, local government and civic and community groups.

The district has already taken tentative and hotly debated steps in the direction of sharing school buildings with outside organizations.

Teachers unions have criticized Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s support of a pair of legislative bills to make it easier for IPS to share space with charter schools, or hire outside groups to manage its schools. House Bill 1321 propsoes a unique arrangements under which outside operates could manage IPS schools or operate charter schools in district buildings, employing the staff and using district services. In exchange, the district could count those students’ test scores in its averages.

The Indianapolis State Teachers Association argues House Bill 1321 is really a way to move teachers off the district’s payroll — and out from under their union contract — to jobs that may be lower paying and offer fewer benefits and job protections.

Ferebee also announced last week IPS is in talks with Indianapolis’ KIPP charter school about sharing space in School 110. He said the district also has had conversations about sharing building space with other private and charter schools.

IPS’s deficit came to light last spring when interim Superintendent Peggy Hinckley was crafting a budget for the current school year. It was Hinckley who engaged the Chamber to help the district find further cost savings.

Hinckley raised alarms about IPS’s budget, saying she could not make deep enough cuts in one year to eliminate the deficit, borrowing from reserve funds to fill the gap this school year. She warned that matching spending to the district’s revenue might require 8 to 10 schools to be closed this spring.

Ferebee said he doesn’t anticipate school closings this spring and suggested a more gradual approach could resolve IPS’s budget woes.

“To get to big numbers you have to look at staffing over time,” Ferebee said. “You’re not going to get a big savings all at one time.”

But the budget picture for next year is not yet clear. He could not rule out tapping reserve funds again.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “I hope we don’t.”

Today’s report largely matched Ferebee’s tone, with recommendations that could save money over time, if not reduce costs by large amounts right away.

Among the other recommendations, the report said IPS should:

  • Undertake an energy assessment of all its buildings.
  • Overhaul its process of approving contracts.
  • Use city buses to transport home magnet school students from extracurricular activities and join with the public busing system to study how routes for both might be adjusted to improve efficiency.
  • Use a system of three start times for schools, which could require fewer buses.
  • Analyze the need for an outside bus contractor. IPS currently has a hybrid system under which a private company manages some buses and the district manages others.
  • Conduct a survey of employees about the district’s strengths, weaknesses and areas that need improvement. Ferebee has already pledged to undertake such a survey.
  • Identify a strategy to improve culture and morale.

Read the full report here.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.