Indiana News

State School Board Funds IPS Turnaround School Companies

IPS says companies getting more money than they should: board says it's following state law

5/2/2012


IPS Superintendent Dr. Eugene White speaks to the State School Board (WIBC.com photo: Ray Steele)

The chief of Indianapolis Public Schools says the district will "consider it's options" after the state school board voted to fund the two companies taking over four IPS schools.

Listen:

The board voted seven-to-one to pay Charter Schools USA and EdPower based on last September's enrollment for the schools they will manage rather than adjust the payments once enrollment is determined this coming September. That means the companies will be guaranteed more than $15 million in state money regardless of how many students are enrolled in the schools.  State School Superintendent Tony Bennett recused himself from the vote, saying it would be a conflict since he will be the person signing the contracts with the turnaround companies.

IPS Superintendent Eugene White doesn't think they will need that much money. "We know what's going to happen. What's going to happen is those students are going to make a decision and they are going to come to IPS. When that happens, the class sizes in those turnaround schools is going to be very small."

Not so fast says Jim Larson, the state education department's turnaround specialist. He says the turnaround companies will, after July 2nd, be able to inform parents and recruit students to the four schools.  "We could be in a position where there are more students enrolled in these schools come September 2012 than there were in September 2011," Larson said. "There won't be an adjustment to accomodate that given the decision made today. Ultimately, we just followed the law."

The law to which Larson refers is the state law that sets the funding formula for every public school in Indiana. White is not a fan of it.  "I don't think the legislators meant to create this problem. I think it was an oversight on their part. I think we have to examine this very closely. We are looking at a loss of possibly $7 million."  White says he will discuss the board's vote with the school district's attorneys, but wouldn't say whether he would try to take any further action.

White also sat through comments from two parents of students at Howe Community High School, one of the school's being taken over. The parents said it appeared IPS was intentionally trying to hurt the school ahead of the takeover, having kitchen and gym equipment moved among other things.

Larson says it isn't the first time IPS has been accused of interfering in the transition.  "We've been in conversation with IPS and their counsel when these issues come up, and expect that these issues will be addressed accordingly," Larson said.  White says nothing fishy is going on.  "I think we've been very very clear that we've been cooperating with this. As a matter of fact, you name any of their concerns, and we have another side of the story."

Sherry Hage, the vice president of education for Charter Schools USA, downplayed reports of shenanigans.  "Yes, there have been obstacles and, yes, there have been challenges.... (we are staying) focused on providing each student a personalized learning opportunity in their school," Hage said.  Charter Schools USA is based in Florida and will operate Howe and Manual High Schools and Donnan Middle School this fall.  EdPower, based in Indianapolis, will operate Arlington High School.

Ann Wilkins, the president of the union that represents IPS teachers, thinks something fishy is happening, but she claims the state education department is causing it.  "I think the goal is to shut down IPS," Wilkins said, adding she doesn't have hard evidence of this, just a gut feeling.  "I don't think they are very supportive of the district and the things that the district is trying to do. I think we are held to a higher standard in some regards. They don't take into consideration the type of children we deal with."

Wilkins agrees with White in that it appears the charter school companies that will be running four city schools next year are getting preferential treatment when it comes to dollars.  "(IPS) class sizes are going to be a lot larger (than the turnaround schools).  We don't think that's fair," said White.

Follow me on Twitter @WIBC_RaySteele

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