A proposal to ensure the transition of three schools under state control back to Indianapolis Public Schools did not gain approval from the State Board of Education Wednesday.
Instead, the board opted to leave open their options in 2020 when newly updated contracts expire between the state and Charter Schools USA, or CSUSA, the for-profit Florida-based management company running the three schools.
The state board could still decide to return the schools to IPS but may also consider making them into charter schools or picking other options.
The ruling left uncertainty about the future of the schools – T.C. Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools and Emma Donnan middle school.
IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has said he intends to close Howe and Manual when they are returned to the district as part of broader plan to remake the district’s high school options. No IPS representatives attended the meeting.
Board member Gordon Hendry says Ferebee’s plan should be cause for limiting how long CSUSA manages the schools. In a 9-2 vote, the board approved a contract until 2020 for the two high schools – that’s a two-year extension. The contract for Emma Donnan also expires in 2020.
Hendry voted against the two-year extension, saying it would a waste of taxpayer dollars to keep operating the high schools for three more years when IPS appears set to close them. CSUSA has received $19.4 million federal funds, between 2011 and mid-2017, to help manage the three schools in addition to state per-student funding, according to state data.
“Until we hear from IPS before this board, and there is potentially a plan devised with IPS, it is premature for us to extend the contract for a couple more years,” Hendry said. “There could be a more efficient solution for the schools, for the students, for the teachers – everybody.”
Yet other board members say Ferebee’s yet unfulfilled plan on school closures shouldn’t be considered. The IPS School Board will vote in late September on a proposal to close four other schools.
Board member David Freitas, a long-time champion of CSUSA, characterized Ferebee’s publically available plan to close Howe and Manual as “a rumor.”
“Come back in a year with IPS and present a joint plan to move forward,” Freitas told CSUSA representatives during the meeting.
In 2012, the state board assigned the CSUSA control of T.C. Howe and Emmerich Manual high schools and Emma Donnan middle school. The schools were eligible for a takeover after earning six consecutive years of Fs on the state’s accountability scale.
The company was expected to vastly improve the schools’ academics and student success rates.
But after five years of control, all three schools remain rated F despite showing small gains of academic gains with students who had remained at the schools year-after-year. Two other schools that faced a state takeover and operated by other private companies also remain graded as Fs.
Board members say it’s time for a clear exit strategy to be in place for CSUSA schools. Tony Walker, who voted for the takeover of the five schools in 2011, says the intervention has created only “flat” improvements.
“I don’t think this model has proven to take us there, to the extent we are going to have a meaningful intervention and do something that is really making a difference,” Walker said. “It is time to sunset this model.”
John Hage, CSUSA CEO, agreed. He promised the board academic and other improvements at the schools when he returned in a year.
After 2020, Hage says he would be open to continuing operating the schools in collaboration with IPS as part of a special contract agreement. Or allow the schools to be fully returned to the district.
Hage says a new non-profit arm of his company, the Noble Education Initiative, will oversee the schools with staff in Indianapolis instead of a Florida-based team. No fees will be paid to the company from the non-profit, Hage says, instead, the CSUSA will foot the operation bill.
“It’s all about what we can do to make education No. 1,” he said after the meeting. “So there is absolutely no profit motive going on because the non-profit is running it.”
It was unclear Wednesday how funding would flow between CSUSA and Noble Education Initiative.