Three Indianapolis high schools and a middle school will close next year as part of a far-reaching academic overhaul approved Monday by the city school board in the face of declining enrollment.
For nearly six months the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners held contentious public meetings to gather input on school closures. At times community members accused school administrators and the board of ignoring their concerns and the negative impact closures would have on poor, mostly black students.
The frustration continued during the board meeting. Some in attendance laughed as commissioners read statements about their votes. When Kelly Bentley explained why she was in favor of closing her alma mater Broad Ripple High School, parent Star Adita stood up and shouted: "I’m blaming you.”
IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee who has been the target of distrust and frustration by critics of the plan, says he thinks many people understand the high schools are under-enrolled.
Around 26,000 high school students attended 11 IPS high schools in 1969. Today, there are only around 5,000 students at seven high schools.
“But not many people wanted their high school to close, and it was a tough decision that had to be made," Ferebee says.
Ferebee has maintained that his “reinventing” of the district was not about closing schools but a means of offering higher quality education by redirecting funds and staff to four high schools instead of seven.
“No more haves and have-nots at the high school level,” he says after the approval. "This is not a facilities plan, this is an academic plan."
The board voted 5-2 to close Arlington High School, Broad Ripple High School and Northwest High School at the end of the current academic year.
Commissioners Venita Moore and Elizabeth Gore voted against the high school closures. Yet Moore says the district can not support its current high schools and wants to seek more resources so they could remain open.
"I fully support the initiative to begin reinventing IPS," she says.
In a separate vote, the board voted unanimously to close John Marshall Middle School and Forest Manor, among other changes.
The four remaining high schools for the 2018-19 academic year are Arsenal Tech, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, and Shortridge.
The board will consider creating a new "all choice" high school curriculum at a later meeting.
If approved, starting next year students will pick a high school to attend based on the interest of "career academies" and vocational options offered across the four schools. Board members verbally agreed to let school counselors begin discussing the new curriculum before they vote to approve it.
Here is what was approved Monday:
- Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School will be available for sale or community use.
- Arlington High School will be converted into a 7-to-8th-grade middle school with an evening high school program for students. Staff from Forest Manor will relocate staff to the building.
- Northwest High School will close but the 7-to-8th-grade middle school currently open in the building would remain. A program for new immigrants would be relocated to the building and the maintenance department will move to the facility.
- If two former IPS high schools, Emmerich Manual and Thomas Howe, are returned to district control from an ongoing state takeover they would be closed, pending state approval.
The recommendation is an effort to redirect $7 million in annual operating costs at under-enrolled high schools into the classroom and offer better academic programs, district officials have maintained.
The district anticipates $13 million in one-time revenue if multiple facilities, including Broad Ripple High School, are sold. Other buildings include Forest Manor, at 4501 East 32nd St., for an undisclosed amount and Facilities Maintenance Department, at 1129 East 16th St., for a potential sale of $3 million to $5 million.
No public comment period was offered during the meeting. Instead, the district says board members have been informed by feedback from more than 4,000 people through 26 "engagement sessions” with the public, students, and district staff.
In 1968 IPS operated 11 high schools with more than 26,000 students. Today, there are seven traditional high schools with around 5,000 students. District officials say the decline in enrollment is linked to population shift in Marion County since the 1950s.