November 16, 2022

IPS community braces for vote to close, reshape schools in Rebuilding Stronger plan

“I don’t stand here this evening to proclaim this plan to be perfect,” said Barato Britt, President and CEO of the Edna Martin Christian Center, about Indianapolis Public Schools' controversial proposal to overhaul the district. - Eric Weddle/WFYI

“I don’t stand here this evening to proclaim this plan to be perfect,” said Barato Britt, President and CEO of the Edna Martin Christian Center, about Indianapolis Public Schools' controversial proposal to overhaul the district.

Eric Weddle/WFYI

It’s the final hours for community members to voice opposition or support for the Indianapolis Public Schools' controversial proposal to overhaul the district, including the closure of six schools and reorganizing the grade configuration at dozens of schools.

Some community members are in favor of the Rebuilding Stronger plan, but those voices seem outnumbered by the families and educators asking the district board to vote it down or delay the decision.

The IPS school board meets at 6 p.m. Thursday at the central office to vote on the far-reaching plan. If approved, some schools would close and merge at the end of this academic year.

READ MOREThe latest on IPS’ ‘Rebuilding Stronger’ plan and what comes next

During community and school meetings, in public and private, a wide range of opinions have been discussed. Some parents favor specific parts but are concerned about how their school will be directly impacted. A common concern from families and educators is uncertainties around changes to academic programs and how well the proposed middle schools will operate.

Here are some recent comments made during public meetings:

Last minute changes

In the days leading up to the vote, district administrators continue to tweak the plan. Global Prep Academy will no longer expand to Harshman Middle School and run a dual language program at the building.

Harshman teachers submitted multiple comments to the board asking for the proposed change to be tossed out.

"Harshman staff won’t stay in IPS If we are asked to work for or share space with Global Prep," math teacher Ella Hereth wrote the board.

Now, the dual-language and high-ability programs will be based at Harshman and operated by IPS employees.

The plan also no longer calls for Center for Inquiry at School 2 to move into Washington Irving School 14. That building is operated since 2018 by Urban Act Academy, an innovation charter school.

A contract for Near Eastside Innovation School Corporation to operate the school is expected to be in voted on by the board next year.

‘Not a perfect plan’

This week, leaders of multiple local community centers shared their reservations about the proposal with the school board.

Barato Britt, President and CEO of the Edna Martin Christian Center, said he’s disappointed James Russell Lowell School 51 principal William Lumbley will no longer serve those students if the plan is approved. The school would merge with Francis W. Parker School 56 where a Montessori curriculum will be offered. Britt is concerned about how School 51 children will adjust.

“I don’t stand here this evening to proclaim this plan to be perfect,” he said.

Britt also said the center in the Martindale-Brightwood will support the district regardless of the vote. He hopes new efforts will positively enhance the neighborhood’s education ecosystem.

“I’m reminded that perfect cannot be the enemy of the good,” he said.

In support of more academic options

Currently, just 34 percent of middle school students have access to a band or orchestra. The plan aims to provide all those students, about 4,200, with the choice to learn an instrument.

Irene Guggenheim Triana, an assistant band director at Arsenal Technical High School, believes students would benefit from having that access to prepare them for the high school band.

“With a few exceptions, all of the students that come into my ensembles with prior musical experience went to elementary and middle schools outside of Indianapolis Public Schools,” Guggenheim Triana said. “My students who’ve been a part of IPS since they were in kindergarten, cannot read music. They cannot keep a steady beat. They come into my ensembles with virtually zero musical literacy skills.”

An example of a student who has lagged due to inadequate music offerings is Emma Wulf, a sophomore at George Washington High School. She said she was intimidated and scared when she started band last year since her previous IPS school didn’t have a band program.

“Fortunately, I was able to get past the fears and become successful in my craft,” said Wulf. “Unfortunately not every student does.”

Funding concerns

Vickie Knoop, an IPS educator who has taught for more than 40 years, asked the district not to approve a plan and ultimately disrupt the lives of thousands of students, parents and teachers if the district doesn’t have the funds to pay for the changes yet.

To pay for construction costs and to support staff compensation, IPS plans to ask voters to approve a $410 million capital referendum to cover the cost of new facilities and building improvements, and a $400 million operating referendum for staff compensation in the May 2023 election.

The two referendums have yet to be approved by the board, part of the process for each to be placed on the May 2023 primary ballot.

“I’m not sure in the economic climate that we're in, that you're going to get [a referendum approved],” said Knoop before the district announced a potential plan to ask voters for a referendum. “I’m also concerned about how these communities where you're closing schools are going to react to that referendum. I'm asking that you postpone this plan until you get your referendum.” 

Delay the vote

Jamya Liggins-Fisher, a local teacher and supporter of Empowered Families – a local education advocacy group – said communication about the plan has been difficult for families and teachers to follow as the district has hastily announced changes over the past two months.

According to the district, more than 75 public meetings were held at each school between the draft plan release on September 13 through October 19. In all, more than 1,000 people attended school meetings. Nearly 1,000 responses to the plans were submitted through a district survey.
232 attendees at community-wide meetings

Liggins-Fisher also believes the plan should be delayed until recently elected board members are sworn into office in January.  Hope Hampton (District 3), Nicole Carey (District 5) and Angelia Moore (at-large) won in the mid-term election. Carey and Moore said they are undecided on support for the plan. Hampton is against it.

“The people who live in the district voted these board members in to represent us,” said Liggins-Fisher. “Ignoring the new board members is another way to ignore the voice of the community.”

WFYI education editor Eric Weddle contributed to this report.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.

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