School Finance

Lawmaker wants school districts to share services

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
House Bill 1100 would encourage districts to consider sharing services, like busing, by offering grants.

Indiana has so many school districts, even in sparsely populated counties, that lawmakers looking to save state dollars today discussed a proposal for grants to promote broader cost-sharing across district lines.

The idea is potentially more palatable than consolidation, an emotionally fraught process that inflames passionate efforts to save small schools from being closed down.

House Bill 1100, authored by Rep. Randall Frye, R-Greensburg, would create a fund of up to $10 million that could award grants as large as $500,000 to school districts seeking support for a move toward consolidated services.

In all, Indiana has 289 school districts for about 1 million schoolchildren.

Frye gave the example of Ripley County, home to 28,000 Hoosiers and three school districts in the state’s Southeast corner. Frye said schools in a place like Ripley County might look at consolidating bus service, for example. The grant would help devise such a shared system.

Frye said other services he could imagine school districts sharing include food service and fuel buying.

The bill passed the House Education Committee 12-0 and now moves to the full House for a vote as early as next week. Other bills passed by the committee today include:

  • Transfers for school employees. House Bill 1054 requires school districts that have space to permit the children of their employees who live outside the school district to transfer into the district’s schools. The bill applies even to districts that have policies against transfers. The bill also requires districts to accept transfers for children who attend private schools within their boundaries but live in a different school district, again if they have space available. Districts with more transfer requests than seats would be required to hold lotteries to determine who gets the available spaces.
  • Cooperative education pilot program. House Bill 1056 would offer grants to Indiana’s four research universities to encourage cooperative education programs with employers.

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply. 

Following the money

Looking to curb absenteeism, other chronic problems, Memphis invests in data specialists with Gates money

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Shelby County Schools leaders brainstorm factors behind chronic absenteeism with a data analyst from Seeding Success.

Why are some students consistently absent?

That’s the question more than 30 local school leaders were trying to answer when they gathered last week around tables in a sunlit conference room in Memphis.

Barton Thorne, the principal at Cordova High School, had more than a dozen reasons written down on sticky notes: homelessness, suspensions, and transportation, among them.

Solving problems like chronic absenteeism and disparities in graduation rates and academic progress is the goal of the nearly $1 million philanthropic dollars earmarked for 15 Shelby County schools, including Cordova High. The money will put data analysts inside select middle and high schools, with the intent of helping school leaders make data-driven decisions.

“It’s like principals get [test] results at the end of the year, and they say, ‘Ok, this went well and this went poorly, now on to the next year,’” said Mark Sturgis, executive director of Seeding Success, a Memphis non-profit that led last week’s training and overseeing the data effort. “We should actually figure out why something went well and build on that data throughout the year.”

The idea behind the project is to track current eighth- and ninth-graders at the schools over a 24-month period. The data analysts will work with principals and assistant principals to come up with factors that inhibit student success, such as being chronically out-of-school due to transportation issues. Together, they will come up with a plan to combat the issue, and then they will track the students to see if the plan works.

“The day-to-day work of school leaders is most often about solving the problems of today,” Sturgis said. “The bigger strategy work is secondary, if it happens at all. We’re not bringing in new interventions to the schools, but we are bringing in people to help schools do that long-term strategy work.”

Seeding Success, which is part of the StriveTogether national network of cradle-to-career collective impact organizations, is placing five data analysts in the schools. The schools were selected by Shelby County Schools and grouped by feeder pattern or location. Analysts will serve:

  • Germantown High School, Germantown Middle School, Avon Lenox High School
  • Central High School, White Station High School, Bellevue Middle School
  • Kingsbury High School, Bolton High School,Kingsbury Middle School
  • Overton High School, Ridgeway High School, Ridgeway Middle School
  • Highland Oaks Middle School, Southwind High School, Cordova High School

More than half a million in funding is coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as part of a larger $92 million pledge to back various educational initiatives, and $300,000 is coming from International Paper, a Memphis-based Fortune 500 company. (Gates is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

International Paper will also be providing technical support for the schools and data team, Sturgis said, adding that Shelby County Schools has a new data system, but more support is needed to help schools best use it. 

Felicia Everson-Tuggle, director of instructional leadership at Shelby County Schools, is heading up the partnership from the district side. She told the principals and assistant principals gathered last week that the goal of the project is to work with Seeding Success to monitor progress toward school goals throughout the year.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Seeding Success and International Paper leaders pose with a check for $300,000.

“What are the next goals for improvement? What needs to be adjusted or changed?” Everson-Tuggle asked the group that had gathered for the training. “We don’t want this to just be a check. We want to make sure all of our schools are high-performing next year.”

If this partnership goes well, the hope is to expand it to additional Shelby County schools, Seeding Success leaders said.

Courtney Robinson, who is managing the project for Seeding Success, echoed Everson-Tuggle by telling the group that this partnership will only work with buy-in from school leaders.

“We really want [the data analysts] to be an Aspirin, not a headache,” Robinson said during the meeting. “They will support you all around the data piece and think with you about factors that affect you all every day.”