Did the Indianapolis Public Schools board violate – or misapply — Indiana’s Open Door Law by meeting in closed-door executive sessions to discuss closing schools? I think there’s a good chance it did.
And that should matter. The Open Door Law is there for a reason: to ensure that government bodies do the public’s business in the daylight. As the preface to the law states, “It is the intent of this chapter that the official action of public agencies be conducted and taken openly, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, in order that the people may be fully informed.”
“Official action,” the law says, includes receiving information and deliberating, not just voting. There are exceptions that allow the public to be excluded from so-called executive sessions, but they are limited.
Winning candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools board positions spent over a half million dollars on their 2020 campaigns, with most of the money coming from advocacy groups that back school choice.
At-large candidate Kenneth Allen spent half that total — $255,742 — to be elected to an office that pays about $6,000 a year, including per-diem payments for meetings and events. The winning candidates outspent their opponents by 10-to-1 on the November 2020 election, according to campaign finance reports filed this month with the Marion County clerk’s office.
The four ran as a slate in favor of continuing the district’s policy of promoting “innovation network schools,” which include charter schools and district schools that operate with charter-like autonomy.
The Indianapolis Public Schools board decided this week to ask voters to approve $315 million in increased property taxes to help fund school operations. That may sound like a lot, but spread over eight years and for a district of IPS’ size, it’s a reasonable request.
It’s right in line with what school boards have been asking for in other districts around the state. And voters have increasingly approved those school-funding referendums.
The IPS operating referendum boils down to $39.4 million per year — about $1,300 per IPS student. Some districts, including West Lafayette, Tri-County and Munster, have won approval for more than that, per pupil. Other districts, including MSD Warren Township and Crown Point, have settled for less.
The IPS referendum would increase local property taxes by up to 28 cents per $100 assessed property value. That’s right in the middle of the 16 school operating referendums approved in the past year.
Indianapolis Public Schools just went through the difficult and excruciatingly painful process of closing three of the district’s seven high schools. Now the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce wants it to close more schools as a condition for getting business support for an upcoming school-funding referendum.
The chamber made the demand in an analysis of IPS finances that it released last week. The group said it is willing to support a modest tax increase to help fix aging buildings and give teachers and principals a raise, but only if the district agrees to cut nearly $500 million in spending over the next eight years.
That’s a huge amount — it’s more than a 15-percent reduction in spending, by my calculation. The chamber report never actually refers to closing schools (except in a footnote); it calls for reducing “excess seats.” But it’s clear that closing schools would produce the bulk of the savings. IPS officials say they would have to close at least 10 elementary or middle schools to make the cuts.
“At the end of the day, there are only a few ways to save money,” IPS school board member Kelly Bentley told me. “That’s closing schools and letting go of teachers.”
Some Indiana schools, many of them charter schools or Indianapolis Public Schools “innovation network” schools, got a break on the A-to-F grades the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.
That’s because the schools are new or newly reopened. And Indiana lets schools that have been open no more than three years calculate their grades on their students’ test-score growth from the previous year, ignoring their test-score performance.
For most schools, grades are calculated on a formula that weights performance and growth equally. The growth measurement awards points for how students fare on a “growth to proficiency” table. Schools with low test scores but high growth can raise their marks, but typically by just a letter grade or two.
But schools that are graded solely on growth are more likely to receive A’s, even if their test scores are low. And in some cases, that’s what happened.
Between Betsy DeVos in Washington and tight-fisted legislators in Indianapolis, you’d think the education news is all bad. It’s not. And we can thank the Indianapolis Public Schools board for that.
The IPS Board of School Commissioners voted unanimously last week for a resolution expressing support for immigrant students, regardless of whether they and their parents are in the country with proper documents. It’s not just a feel-good statement. The resolution commits IPS to a policy of not asking about students’ immigration status. And it reminds IPS staff that they should not help with immigration enforcement “unless legally required and authorized to do so by the superintendent.”
This is an example that every school board in Indiana should follow. And boards in other states too.
It doesn’t matter whom you voted for in last year’s elections or what you think of immigration as a policy issue. Most children of immigrants are here through no choice of their own. A 1982 Supreme Court decision guarantees them a right to education. Schools have a moral obligation to welcome them. Continue reading
Stand for Children is at it again. The Oregon-based education advocacy group is spending big money to determine who gets elected to the Indianapolis Public Schools board.
That in itself could be cause for concern. But what’s really troubling is that the amount Stand for Children is spending and the source of its money are being kept secret.
If you or I give more than $100 to a candidate for school board or any other public office, the contribution is made public. And candidates have to report how they spend campaign money. But Stand for Children is carrying out a so-called independent campaign in support of the slate of IPS candidates endorsed by its Indianapolis branch. So under the law, it doesn’t have to tell us anything.
It is sending glossy mailers to residences in the IPS district, an expensive undertaking that you might expect in a race for mayor but not in a school board election. It did the same thing in the 2014 IPS election, and its favored candidates won by overwhelming margins.
Judging by the limited and vague information Stand for Children reports to the Internal Revenue Service on its Form 990, it’s a safe bet the organization spent $200,000 or more in Indy in 2014. The report says it paid an Indianapolis firm over $140,000 for printing and mailing services. It also reportedly paid individuals to stand at the polls and hand out fliers on Election Day.
That would be in line with what the group reported spending this year on school board elections in Nashville, Tenn., where it is now facing complaints that it violated campaign finance laws.
But Jim Scheurich, part of the local Our IPS group that is pushing back against Stand and endorsing a different slate, estimates the group is spending considerably more than that this year in Indianapolis. Continue reading
You have to wonder what the late federal judge S. Hugh Dillin would have thought about last week’s Indianapolis Star/Chalkbeat Indiana story that concluded Indianapolis Public Schools elementary schools are more racially segregated now than 35 years ago.
Chances are he wouldn’t have been surprised. Dillin lived until 2006, long enough to watch white, middle-class families fly the coop after he issued a series of school busing orders. In fact, he noted that white flight was already happening in the early 1970s, apparently spurred by the mere threat of desegregation.
S. Hugh Dillin (Maurer School of Law)
But busing took some unusual twists in Indianapolis – or so it appears to an outsider like me. For one thing, it was one of just three U.S. cities where a busing order encompassed suburban as well as city schools. Also, busing was one-way: black students were bused from IPS to surrounding schools, but white students weren’t bused to IPS.
The Indiana legislature outlawed racial segregation of public schools in 1949, but Indianapolis Public Schools apparently didn’t get the memo. IPS’ Crispus Attucks High School remained all black until 1967. Elementary schools remained racially divided by neighborhood.
The feds sued in 1968 as a result; and three years later, Dillin ruled that IPS had practiced racial discrimination in assigning students and teachers to schools. Busing began, within the district.
All this was happening while Indianapolis was implementing Unigov, the merger of city and county governments. But schools were left out of the merger; Marion County kept its 11 school districts. One could argue this was the city’s original sin, from which its educational climate never recovered.
To hear Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White tell it, the district’s Arlington, Broad Ripple, Howe and Washington community high schools are well on their way to educational success.
White says passing rates on state tests improved this year by 21 percentage points at Washington, 9 points at Howe and 7 points at Arlington. And Broad Ripple, a performing-arts magnet school, had some of the best results in the IPS district. White said its passing rate for algebra rose to 83 percent in 2011.
But the Indiana Department of Education says the schools have failed to turn themselves around. They are among only seven schools that have earned the lowest possible grade in the state’s Public Law 221 accountability system for six straight years – making them subject to being turned over to school management companies.
Both IPS and DOE are looking at state test scores. But they’re looking at scores for different groups of students, and they’re looking at them in different ways, resulting in very distinct conclusions about how the schools are performing.
White bases his claim for improvement on high school students’ scores – the performance of 10th-graders on Algebra and English end-of-course assessments. He’s comparing preliminary reports of ECA results from 2011 with those from 2010. (The state hasn’t yet released official 2011 ECA results).
But IPS in recent years added grades 6-8 to Arlington, Broad Ripple, Howe and Washington, converting them to “community high schools.” The Department of Education is including the ISTEP-Plus scores of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in its calculations, along with the ECA scores of 10th graders. Continue reading