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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”