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.”

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 [email protected]

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.”