Charter Schools USA could relinquish control of three Indianapolis schools in 2020 if the State Board of Education approves a proposal next week. Updated contracts between the Florida-based company and the state would require a transition of the schools back to control of Indianapolis Public Schools in three years.
Thc company was hired by the state in 2011 to manage and turn around three chronically failing IPS schools. Charter Schools USA, or CSUSA, is one of the country’s largest for-profit charter school management companies with more than 70 schools in seven states.
Ron Sandlin, the State Board of Education's senior director of school performance and transformation, says the board should update the CSUSA contracts for T.C. Howe High School and Emmerich Manual High School now since the current agreement between the state and the company will end in one year.
“The school community at both schools is entitled to know what the future holds going into the 17-18 academic year,” he wrote in a memorandum.
The memorandum also recommends the contracts between the state and CSUSA be extended by two years to end on June 30, 2020. That’s the same end date for the company’s management of Emma Donnan Middle School.
Sandlin also recommends the updated contracts require CSUSA to “demonstrate a commitment to each school earning a ‘D’ or high performance rating by the end of 2020.”
The board will discuss the proposal at its monthly public meeting 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Indiana Government Center South.
CSUSA was one of three private companies selected by the state in 2011 to take control of five failing schools. The State Board of Education used a law to intervene at schools graded an F for six consecutive years. A high school in Gary and an Indianapolis high school were assigned to other charter school companies.
State leaders hoped the private companies would turn the schools around through increasing overall academics and graduation rates.
But the three CSUSA schools are currently rated an F on the state’s accountability scale. The other two schools remain ranked as Fs.
And in the first half of 2017, some education policy makers have begun to wonder about the future of CSUSA in Indiana.
In April, the Indiana Charter School Board voted to void two charters for schools that were to be managed by CSUSA. The board cited missed deadlines and a lack of communication. No CSUSA representatives attended the meeting or spoke to board staff in the weeks after the vote.
Later that month, the Indianapolis Public Schools board raised concern over the performance of Emma Donnan Elementary School -- a school opened in 2015 by CSUSA under a special contract with the district. The elementary school was opened to help boost achievement for students who transitioned to Emma Donnan Middle School.
At the time of the April meeting, IPS Board President Mary Ann Sullivan said the CSUSA contract with the IPS Board could be canceled after the 2017-18 school year if academics continue to lag. Academic results at the elementary schools have been slow and many students remain below grade level.
“When we have partners whose purpose it is to improve student achievement and that doesn’t happen -- yes -- we will actually intervene in these schools,” she said when asked if the board would consider ending its partnership with CSUSA.
Then in June, the State Board of Education approved a 17 percent decrease in federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds, compared to the previous year for CSUSA. During the meeting, board member David Freitas argued that the funding should be kept flat.
CSUSA received $19.4 million in SIG funds, between 2011 and mid-2017, to help manage the three schools in addition to state per-student funding, according to state data.
In wake of these issues, IPS created a contingency plan to enroll the 1,500 students at Howe, Manual and Emma Donna if CSUSA ended its contract before the start or during the 2017-18 school year.
Last month during a meeting with media, IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said it was yet unclear if CSUSA would continue to operate the three schools for the new school year because of the funding cut.
An IPS proposal to close three high schools because of low enrollment also includes plans to shutter Howe and Manual when they are returned to the district.
“I don’t anticipate keeping those schools open,” Ferebee said last month.
On Wednesday, IPS spokeswoman Carrie Black said the district is following these discussions and awaits the state board's action "for further discussion and planning."
Representatives for CSUSA did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday.
The other two high schools taken over by the State Board of Education in 2011 have faced challenging transitions.
Arlington High School in Indianapolis was operated by Tindley Schools for two years before the company requested additional federal funding. When the state board declined to reinstate funding cuts, Tindley broke its contract and the school was returned to IPS for the 2015-16 school year.
Gary’s Roosevelt High School was solely managed by Edison Learning of New York until last month. Now responsibilities are are shared by the company and the Gary Community School Corporation.