Ferebee: IPS will make major changes in financial reporting

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
USN 6th grader during a mindfulness practice.

In 2009, when a member of the Indianapolis Public School Board asked to see a detailed budget she was told no.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the board was going to get exactly the sort of detail then-board member Kelly Bentley asked for five years ago, and he suggested IPS should have been providing the data to the board all that time.

Bentley, who is considering running again for the school board this fall, was told at the time that board members did not need to see such detail by then-Superintendent Eugene White.

Ferebee, on the other hand, raised concerns in March, which have now been confirmed by two external audits, that IPS’s financial reporting to the school board barely existed before his own calculations earlier this year to determine that the district was not operating $30 million in the red, as the board believed when he was hired last year.

Consider this finding from one of audits released Tuesday: The district had not produced an annual budget book for the school board or the public since 2010, a year after Bentley complained.

What little information was presented to the board were simply projections, which often were overstated, and not actual account balances, auditors wrote.

Now, Ferebee said, his team is working to restore faith in a system that an audit by the Council on Great City Schools called “lacking transparency at virtually every level.”

IPS officials officially announced the results of the audits — the other was performed by the State Board of Accounts — at Tuesday’s IPS school board meeting. But already, IPS officials have started reconciling projected versus real expenses and revenues on a monthly basis and providing board members and the public regular updates.

The district also formed a budget development committee, which will meet for the first time June 18, to guide the board as it plans for next year’s spending and revenue. Ferebee said bringing the community together around the budgeting process, and being more transparent about it in the future, will help build trust in the district.

“We need an all-hands-on-deck approach,” Ferebee said. “We believe this should be a community effort from the entire city.”

In light of the findings, IPS’ financial services division also will be restructured. The board in March fired its chief financial officer for performance-related reasons a week after Ferebee first announced that he did not believe there was a deficit.

While the audit findings largely focused on the actions of IPS’s prior administrations, Ferebee said he “doesn’t want to focus on what happened in the past.”

“Similar to other departments, we are currently studying the business and finance department and will reorganize to ensure we have optimal effectiveness and efficiency,” Ferebee said.

Before Ferebee’s announcement in March, many in the district feared IPS was on the verge of closing schools to try to reduce its proclaimed $30 million deficit. With the district was no longer in that position, Ferebee said he is looking for ways to use mostly empty school buildings differently, possibly by selling or renting some of them, and looking ahead to the district’s growing space needs over the next few years when it implements universal preschool across IPS.

“I don’t want to look at closures at this point,” Ferebee told reporters. “There are a lot of options.”

He’s also keeping the district’s modest surplus in mind when it comes time in August to officially begin collective bargaining over teacher contracts, which have not seen raises in five years.

IPS board members stayed mostly silent after Ferebee’s presentation, and did not discuss the audits much afterward, except to ask a question about what would be required of them if the board were to decide to create an audit committee.

Board Member Michael Brown said that while the results of the audits did not surprise him. He was “overjoyed” to hear that nothing illegal or unethical had been found, he said.

“I’ve been calling for an internal audit for 10 years,” Brown said. “Somebody needs to report regularly to the board so this never happens again.”

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.

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