An effort to ease tensions fell flat at Indianapolis Public Schools’ first public meeting about its plan to close three high schools.
“I think that we can all agree that under our new leadership team, with Dr. (Lewis) Ferebee at the helm, the district has actually made great strides both academically, operationally and financially,” said Denise Herd, the communications consultant brought in to moderate.
“Wouldn’t you all agree?” she said.
“No!” the crowded audience responded in near unison.
That rebuke set the tone for the meeting Wednesday night, where a crowd of about 150 people packed into a room at the Glendale Library to discuss a proposal to close three high schools in the district. IPS educators, parents, alumni and students spoke about frustration with the school closing process, the current administration and charter schools that draw students from the district.
The conversation was highly structured, with attendees divided into several groups to discuss the proposal. District staff, including Ferebee, and school board members moved among the groups, answering questions and listening in on conversations. But the crowd was so lively in its discussion, it was a struggle to hear people over the din of the packed room.
When group leaders shared their thoughts with the full audience after nearly an hour of conversation, the tone was frustrated. Most of the groups agreed that the process was moving too fast and didn’t include enough community input.
“School closings are huge in our community, and so what we need to do is make sure that we have the community involved,” said Carrie Harris of the Crispus Attucks High School Alumni Association. “Let’s not rush this thing.”
The meeting was the first of four the district plans on holding before the administration recommends in June which schools to close. The board is expected to vote on the proposal in September, with schools likely closing in 2018-2019. If the board goes forward with the plan to close three schools, the district would educate just over 5,000 students in the four remaining high schools — a shift that officials project would save the district more than $4 million per year.
Curtis Baker, a Broad Ripple High School graduate and parent, said that he understands the district needs to close schools because of low enrollment, but he wants to know how the money it saves would be used to improve education for students in the high schools that remain open.
“I think we’re kind of rushing this,” he said. “Maybe we’re bleeding money out, and I’m sure we are. But this is affecting a lot of people.”
Many of the audience members said they had deep loyalty to the IPS high schools they and their family attended. Cynnie Halsmer graduated from Broad Ripple High School, along with her mother and two sons. Her two daughters are currently enrolled at the school.
“Slow down,” she said. “Don’t do this to people.”
The district will hold three more community meeting before the administration recommends which high schools to close.
6-8 p.m. May 1
Ivy Tech Culinary Center
2820 N. Meridian Street
6-8 p.m. May 11
Zion Hope Baptist Church
5950 E 46th Street
6-8 p.m. May 15
2121 W. Michigan St.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.