Educators stood outside the Indianapolis Public Schools main office Thursday evening to raise concerns about a district proposal to close schools. Members of the Indianapolis Education Association, the district’s teachers union, want IPS to be more transparent about the impact and commit to not allowing non-union charter schools to be opened inside district school buildings if they are shuttered.
It is uncertain how the district could handle the possible closure of school buildings. Administrators want to sway lawmakers to change a state law that allows charter operators to purchase or rent unused school buildings for a dollar, but were unsuccessful in the past legislative session. The district can also choose to partner with charter groups through a contract and provide a building for use — an effort opposed by the state and local teacher unions.
IPS is considering a major overhaul to its schools and enrollment policies, which could close seven schools, merge others and end K-8 grade configurations and replace them with K-5 elementary schools and 6-8 middle schools. The proposal — set for a vote by the school board in November — is also drawing concern from some organizations and parents. Public meetings on the plan are being held for the next few weeks.
Nicole Cooper was one of about 20 teachers who gathered to raise concerns. Cooper, a seventh grade English teacher at Harshman Middle School, is not against the IPS proposal, she just wants more transparency around its many parts.
“We just want to know what is going to happen, and our voices should be heard. It is not fair that teachers are constantly disregarded as an option when we’re the ones who are making the moves,” said Cooper, who is also the mother of a current IPS elementary student. “We’re the ones our kids are excited to see and we’re the ones — in spite of whatever’s going on in our lives — we’re there front row and center.”
The teachers want the district to listen to their colleagues who have been through previous disruptions. In 2012, dozens of IPS teachers were displaced when the state took control of three failing high schools. In 2018, IPS closed three high schools and a middle school, displacing some of the same teachers again. Those experiences, they said, can help the district be better informed about the impact of the proposal.
IEA had two immediate requests for IPS. They asked the district to provide adequate translation services for non-English speakers who are attending all community meetings about the proposed plan. Members said some language translators were 45 minutes late to meetings, preventing people from understanding the information the district was presenting.
The district has scheduled two upcoming sessions for Spanish speakers.
They also asked the district to pause a displacement survey issued to staff that aims to help the district figure out where to place educators located at schools that could close or face new grade configurations next year if the plan is approved.
But Cooper said the language in the survey was too vague to determine which schools they could possibly be transferred to next academic year. She also said there were limited options for selecting schools for next year, as well as some options that were missing, such as the ability to switch to a high school for teachers who are certified to teach those grade levels.
“We know that in order to defend public education, in order for us to truly envision what a more equitable, positive, quality public education looks like, changes are going to be necessary,” said Jack Hesser, IEA vice president. “We don’t stand here tonight ignorant that change isn’t going to happen or that change isn’t going to be hard. We know that. But we also know that with change comes opportunities. And we need to be a partner in this work.”
Hesser also wants the district to provide more clarity on teacher retention bonuses. The proposal calls for $10,000 to staff members directly impacted by the changes, pending state approval. Principals would receive more.
“We understand that the district using money as a way to retain staff is a positive experience for educators,” Hesser said. “What we want to make sure of is that educators have accurate information about those stipends before making decisions about whether to leave or stay within a school community.”
IEA also asked the district to identify the plans for the buildings that might close. They want IPS to create a plan that financially benefits the district or serves the community.
IEA plans to meet with the district next week. The deadline to provide feedback on the plan is Oct. 21.