School closings

Indianapolis Public Schools is about to reveal which high schools are likely to close. Here’s what you should know.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
The Indianapolis Public Schools administration is about to announce which high schools they aim to close.

The wait to learn which Indianapolis high schools could close is almost over.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is expected to release his recommendation next week, following an Indianapolis Public Schools report calling for three of its seven high schools to close. The administration recommendation will also include plans for where magnet programs at closed schools could move and what might happen to the vacant buildings.

The board plans to vote on which high schools to close in September. Before a final vote, the district is expected to hold meetings at each of the schools targeted for closure.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

Here are four things you should know ahead of the decision:

1. Some high schools are (virtually) safe from closure.

Although Ferebee and other district administrators have been close-lipped about which high schools are most likely to close — the list of criteria is so expansive it’s difficult to draw any conclusions — some schools are in far more danger than others.

It would be stunning, for example, if the administration recommended closing Arsenal Technical High School, the district’s largest high school and a hub for career training programs. Other schools seem far more likely to face closure, including the beloved art magnet Broad Ripple High School. The building is expected to be less than 30 percent full this fall and it has the highest per student spending in IPS.

Read Chalkbeat’s analysis of each IPS high school.

2. The effect on current and future students can’t be easily predicted.

The district expects to have more than twice as many seats as there are high school students next year. IPS leaders says closing schools could save more than $4 million per year and allow the district to invest in more advanced classes and career and technical education programs at the four remaining high schools.

But research on how closing high schools affects student outcomes, such as graduation rates, is mixed. Some studies have shown that current students are less likely to graduate when their high school closes. But when the process is executed well and students are given better options, some research has found improved graduation rates for current and future students.

3. Indianapolis Public Schools has been losing high-schoolers for years.

At its peak, IPS had 11 high school buildings serving an average of 2,373 students. This fall, it’s expected to run seven buildings with an average of 763 students each, according to the district closing report.

Families have been leaving Indianapolis Public Schools for suburban, charter and private schools for decades. Over the last 10 years alone, enrollment in IPS high schools has fallen by more than 40 percent, and the decline is even more apparent looking further back. In 1968, the district enrolled 26,107 high school students. Enrollment has drastically declined since then, and the district expects to educate just 5,352 high-schoolers next year.

4. Lots of community members oppose closing high schools.

Whichever high schools district leaders move to close, there is likely to be vigorous community opposition.

Parents, students and alumni have spoken out against closing schools at several contentious district-run meetings in recent weeks and pled with the administration to slow down or come up with an alternative plan. Closing high schools, they said, will leave vacant buildings in neighborhoods, push students to dropout and increase violence, as students from different communities are forced into the same school. Critics even organized their own meeting to oppose closing high schools.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at the IPS central office, 120 E. Walnut St. Community members can sign-up online to offer comments.

with interest

Closed charter school using private funds to issue unpaid teachers their summer paychecks

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George sent a letter to teachers from Michigan Technical Academy on Monday saying there may be ways to make sure they get paid for work performed during the school year.

Teachers at a recently closed charter school received a letter today saying they would in fact receive the summer paychecks they are due for work performed during the school year.

Teachers at the Michigan Technical Academy were told last month that money that was supposed to pay them would instead go to pay off the school’s debts. In an email at the time, the school’s management company, Matchbook Learning, said the matter was out of its control.

Company CEO Sajan George sent followup letters to update the situation, including one at the end of July describing attempts to find other ways to pay teachers.

But attempts to recoup funds that were going to pay debts failed or were too slow. So the company decided to pay teachers out of its own funding, using private donations to foot the bill, George said in today’s letter. 

“Even though Matchbook has not been paid itself in the past five months, we have come up with the money to make our employees whole,” George wrote. “Matchbook will continue to pursue the funding owed to us, but whether we receive it or not, we are using this funding from private sources to fulfill our commitment to you.”

A payment made, with interest, this week to cover two previous paychecks, and another final payment will be made on Aug. 30, according to the letter. Here’s the letter he sent:

August 22, 2017
Dear Former Employee:

As I’ve related in my previous letters, we have been doing everything possible to get you the summer pay you’re owed.

We’ve had little success, as the bond holders have insisted on taking the July and August State Aid payments entirely for themselves. The Michigan Finance Authority has informed us that, while they are sympathetic, they can offer no assistance. CMU has offered no help. And working through the court system to get a Receiver appointed is going to take
longer than we thought – too long to benefit the people who need these payments to be able to make ends meet.

So we are paying you ourselves. Even though Matchbook has not been paid itself in the past five months, we have come up with the money to make our employees whole. Funds have been made available, through the generosity of our supporters, to pay employees the summer pay they are due. Matchbook will continue to pursue the funding owed to us, but whether we receive it or not, we are using this funding from private sources to fulfill our commitment to you.

We have already ordered payments to be made via direct deposit from our payroll processing vendor Paychex into your bank accounts that Paychex has on file from our last payroll run.

Payments covering what was owed from July 30th and August 15th, should be deposited into your bank accounts today and tomorrow – with interest from those dates. Your final payment will be made before it is due on August 30th by the end of this week. Any questions can be directed to [email protected]

We are a small nonprofit organization, but we feel an overriding commitment to the people who worked so hard to benefit our students all year. We know this has been a challenging process, but I’m pleased at least to be able to provide you with the pay you deserve.

Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Sajan George
Founder & CEO, Matchbook Learning, a non-profit corporation

High school years

‘Fall was a big buildup of school spirit’: A Northwest alumnus remembers pep rallies, school plays, and some tension along the way, too.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Bill Franklin
Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980, as a high-schooler (left) and as an adult (right).

In September, the board of Indianapolis Public Schools will vote on a proposal to close four high schools in the district. Chalkbeat is collecting narratives from former students and teachers from Arlington, Broad Ripple, John Marshall, and Northwest.

Want to share your own memories from one of these schools? Fill out this form.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity)

Bill Franklin, Northwest High School Class of 1980

Member, Class of 1980 reunion committee

Question: Can you tell us something about your memories from high school?
Answer: Northwest High School was a big part of my growing up. The neighborhood I lived in was right next door to the school, so it was within walking distance. And I have two older brothers who went to Northwest before me. So going to the football games on Friday nights was always a big thrilling event for me, going over to watch band practices and things like that. It was just a very good place to grow up, a very good school to go to at the time.

Q. What was the school like back then?
A. I was one of these weirdo kids who was always excited when the school year started, as opposed to ‘Oh no, summer’s over!’ Because it was a chance to go back to see the friends that you typically didn’t see over the summer, there was always new clothes to wear, and always the excitement of finding out what your classes were going to be like.

The fall was just a big buildup of school spirit because of the football games, and they would have pep rallies, and there was always the part of the pep rally where they would have the freshmen class make as much noise as they could, and then the sophomore class, and so on, and then it was judged who had the most spirit, which class it was. It was just always a good time.

Having said that, our school ratio honestly back then was probably 60 percent black and 40 percent white, so there were a couple years where there was a lot of tension early in the school year between black and white students. Sometimes it would be on the news. I do remember coming home from school one time and my mom asked me if anything had happened at the school and I said, ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ She said, ‘Well, the neighbor heard on the news that they were having problems at Northwest, some students threw rocks at a bus that was busing in black students from Indianapolis.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ (Franklin is white.)

That always seemed to be that way, just briefly at the beginning of the school year. I don’t know why, I never experienced anything myself. What was interesting was, like the cafeteria, it was kind of an unspoken or unwritten thing that the majority of the white students would sit on one side of the cafeteria and the majority of the black students would sit on the other. I thought that was kind of interesting, but again, I didn’t notice any trouble with that.

Q. Was this tension ever acknowledged by the school?
A. I just don’t think it was acknowledged. Maybe the administration just (thought) you know, as long as there’s nothing really going on with that, we’ll leave it alone. They didn’t want to get too involved in it. And like I said, it always worked itself out. Going through the hallways, between classes, I never saw anything, I never felt threatened. It was actually a good school to go to, I enjoyed it.

Q. What groups or clubs were you involved in?
A. The school curriculum was, you had to have at least one year of physical education, and so I did my one year and got out. I’m just not a sports-minded individual. Both of my brothers were, they played football all through high school, and I remember my dad telling me that when I got to high school, I’d be involved in some sort of sport activity. And I didn’t want to be. I got really involved in the arts – the art department, choir, theater, show choir. My parents noticed that I really enjoyed it, and did very well with it, and was very happy.

I remember absolutely every show I was in. We always did a fall play and a spring musical. I remember every play and musical I was in and whatever character I played. And Northwest was a fantastic school to do that in, because they have one of the largest auditoriums for a public school. So it was fun performing there, it was just great. The camaraderie in the theater department and the music department was really good.

In my junior year of high school, we did the fall play ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ and I was cast as the lead character, Tom. That was my biggest thing, being in that play as the lead. My junior year, we did the musical ‘Once Upon A Mattress,’ and I played the minstrel. My character was the very first character out on stage, and did a big solo number. We ended up taking that musical to state competition and we got number one musical in the state of Indiana.

Q. What did you think when you heard about the plan to convert Northwest into a middle school?
A. Well, I do know that the people on the (Class of 1980) reunion committee, when we first heard about Northwest closing, everyone was kind of in shock and sad to hear that, because it really was a good school back in our day. But we all knew that their enrollment had declined, and we had heard some of the wings weren’t even being used because they didn’t have the students they used to.

I live in Hendricks County. Everybody I know (from Northwest), nobody lives there, they don’t even have kids or grandkids who go there. So I don’t think a whole lot of people in my group are really affected by it, other than, it’s just sad to hear.