More than 100 protesters gathered outside the Indianapolis Public Schools administrative office Tuesday evening to demand district leaders slow down on an expected plan to close multiple high schools next year.
The IPS administration’s recommendation on which high schools to close and how to reuse the facilities will be released Wednesday.
Students, teachers and community members say their concerns and ideas have not been taken into consideration during a series of community meetings the past few months. Rather, they claim, the task force making the closure recommendation has been driven by outside influences focused on real estate and charter school opportunities instead of retaining the district’s community high schools.
During Tuesday’s board meeting about a dozen speakers called for a new “community-based” task force to consider how to better utilize schools under enrollment capacity and create programs to support students prepare for jobs and college. Dozens of others hooted and cheered at each verbal barb aimed at the board.
The board did not respond to the speakers or discuss the issue of school closures during the meeting.
But Michael Brown, a former IPS board commissioner, says that is just too soon for schools to be closed next year.
"I don't feel like this board has listened to the public. If so, they would slow this down," he says. "The way it is going -- we are closing IPS schools but we are partnering with charter schools."
Brown and others criticize the IPS Board’s recent approvals of partnering with charter high school Herron and the soon-to-open Purdue Polytechnic and Riverside high schools even as multiple high schools will likely be closed due to falling enrollment.
The charter school network KIPP Indy recently had its application for a new charter high school approved by the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office. The application state KIPP’s “intention ... to partner with IPS as an innovation charter high school” and locate in the district’s Forest Manor Professional Development Center -- a facility currently in use by district staff for training.
Under the “innovation network” contract with the board, these charter schools will operate independently under the IPS umbrella and receive state funding based on the IPS rate. The IPS Board will have the ability to end the partnership with these so-called innovation schools, yet each school’s leadership will report to their own board of directors.
During the IPS Board meeting Pastor Antonio Alexander criticized the school board for "tearing down" the district instead of trying to keep schools open.
“Before any changes are made," he says. "The board needs to change at the top.”
The downsizing is a response to the district’s slide in student enrollment over the past few decades. Around 25,000 students attended 11 IPS high schools in 1969. Today around 5,000 high school students attend seven remaining high schools.
The closures would save at least $4 million and up to $7 million in facilities expenses, according to district officials.