Who Is In Charge

Skeptical parents worry a move toward innovation and autonomy could hurt IPS

Dozens of parents and community members say they are done watching from the sidelines as leaders restructure Indianapolis Public Schools — they’re demanding a voice in the process.

The Indianapolis Public School Board is putting in place a strategy that calls for schools to run more independently, including partnerships with outside organizations — such as charter schools — at some schools.

But dissent is percolating in some corners of the IPS community.

A small crowd of nearly 40 parents and others that gathered tonight to discuss the district’s innovation and autonomy plan were overwhelmingly suspicious, raising concerns that it is undermining public schools and could culminate in an all-charter school system.

The NAACP-sponsored event was designed to encourage community members to participate in the district’s planning process. The group formed five action committees to push for more community influence on the plan, with groups working on research, legislation, media, parents and students.

Jennifer Olson, who has two sons at Sidener Academy and a daughter at Shortridge High School, said she worried that the district’s plan would hurt kids across the district.

“I just feel like they’re slowly dismantling the district,” she said. “It’s frightening to me. … I feel like there’s a lack of checks and balances (at innovation schools).”

Joseph Tucker Edmonds — an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor of Africana and religious studies who moderated the discussion — said that parents are engaged at the school level, but they need a voice during the district planning process.

“The board has not really provided clear avenues for parents and community members to be involved,” he said.

The first hurdle for the NAACP, however, may be raising awareness and understanding of the direction the board has charted.

Like many IPS parents, Dountonia Batts, whose son is a junior in the math and science magnet program at Arsenal Technical High School, said she doesn’t fully understand the district’s plan for reconfiguring schools.

“I’m really confused about what’s the difference between autonomy and innovation,” she said. “There’s no evidence that what they’re doing is getting better.”

Brandon Cosby — a former Shortridge High School principal who was fired for insubordination and the husband of board member Gayle Cosby — said the board could be doing more to collaborate with parents.

For example, Cosby said he spent 15 months working with parents and community members to plan the school before Shortridge reopened.

“Talking to the community after the fact of what we decided,” he said, “is not community engagement.”

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”