Future of Schools

Hundreds gather at Broad Ripple High School to plead for the school to stay open

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Hundreds of people gathered in the Broad Ripple High School auditorium Tuesday night.

Hundreds of students, alumni and parents packed into the Broad Ripple High School auditorium Tuesday night to speak out about plans to close the campus.

Despite the contentious topic and large crowd, the meeting was about to end early after the Indianapolis Public Schools board heard from everyone who had signed up in advance.

But when a resident pled with the board members to allow more speakers, they opened the floor to other people in the crowd.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger

“I know that you so badly want parental and community engagement in IPS, and IPS needs it so badly,” said MaryAnn Schlegel Ruegger, a frequent critic of the administration. “You’ve got a room full of people here who want to engage with you.”

In the end, dozens of people spoke during a public comment period that lasted about an hour and a half.

The meeting was the first since the Indianapolis Public Schools administration presented a plan last month to close three high schools. The proposal calls for closing Broad Ripple and John Marshall Middle School and converting Arlington and Northwest high schools to middle schools.

The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at John Marshall and in August at Arlington and Northwest.

Many speakers urged the board not to close the school, but others seemed resigned to its inevitability. And the meeting was not as acrimonious as some of the earlier discussions of high school closings, with many speakers focusing on their love of the school.

Here are some comments — edited for brevity and clarity — from students, parents and alumni at the meeting.

Brela Akers, student

“Why take a school that has a supportive neighborhood away from students that live in an economically depressed area? Why can’t you give us a chance to actually let our program grow? We have been to Bands of America, we have the Nutcracker, we have Sisters Act, all of that. You don’t hear about schools doing that. I hear that if you close this school down, you’re going to move us to another school, but it won’t be the Ripple spirit that we have right now in this building.”

Brooke Blakemore, alumna

“I recently graduated from Broad Ripple. I am in the first sixth grade graduating class, I have been here for a total of seven years. I have stood there and played my instrument for many years. I am going to Tuskegee University, and it is because of Broad Ripple High School. I graduated tenth in my class. I do not have a childhood like most people have when they’re going to a school such as Tuskegee, but it was Broad Ripple that made me want to go to Tuskegee.”

Katie Bacone, alumna

“I’m here as a Broad Ripple alumna, as a resident of the Broad Ripple Village Association and a lifelong resident of Broad Ripple. As an alum, I am just saddened by the shocking news. And as a resident, I am full of anxiety at the possibility of the massive change that could occur if this should happen in my neighborhood.

“Six to eight million is a lot of money, but when compared with the ramifications, I don’t see how it’s worth it. I don’t think that people fully register to them how big an upset it would be for Broad Ripple and for IPS to not only close but sell this historic building. I am echoing what a lot of people have said, I just want to voice that I’m another person who wants to keep this place open.”

Scott Jenkins, resident

“I am a resident here in Broad Ripple. I serve on the Midtown Indy board. No one runs for the school board or becomes superintendent of schools in an urban school district to close schools. I know how hard this decision is. No one wants to realign school district boundaries, this very hard decision that you all are inheriting.

“What I would say to you is that the education facility that is here has a strong set of bones and genes. Unfortunately, it is an education program less a community program. Whatever you decide and wherever you move forward, you can flip that model. You can bring this community back into the school.”

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Mark Webster

Mark Webster, alumnus

“I’m a Class of ’83 graduate of Broad Ripple High school. I’m here today because I’m optimistic that you guys may not vote it to close, but I’m also a realist here, when I look at the economics of it, it’s gonna be hard not to close it when you got $6 to $8 million looking in your face to help your budget. My concern is though, in all the meetings we’ve gone to and we’ve been at, we’ve never heard a plan to restore and keep the history and the legacy of this school. This school joined IPS in 1923 So you’re talking about 94 years of educational opportunities right in this community, 94 years of history. Please don’t just close this school and not have a plan for history, building, I could see like a museum or something like that.

“In ’78, the same people in your same position voted to close Wood High School. Wood High School has no history. You can’t find anything about Wood. We cannot allow that to go for Broad Ripple. I will not stand for it.”

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.