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Senate backs bill promoting IPS-charter school partnerships

A legislative vote Tuesday may clear the way for Indianapolis Public Schools to create unique partnerships to jointly run IPS schools with charter schools.

The concept has been hotly opposed by teachers unions and Democrats, but had support from IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and others pushing for change in the way the city’s schools are managed.

District employees would have to switch to working for the outside group to stay at the school, giving up their union-protected jobs with IPS. Opponents argued the bill could force lower salaries for some teachers, as charter schools pay $10,000 less per year or more, on average, than the school district based on 2012 data.

Others objected to a late change to the bill that would allow for-profit companies, along with non-profit organizations, to run IPS schools. The bill, which applies only to IPS, passed the Senate 31-17. Contracts with the outside management organization could not be less than five years under the bill.

Ferebee has argued the bill was necessary to keep IPS from closing neighborhood schools, which he said were threatened by the district’s financial woes. The district will be trying to close a $30 million budget deficit this spring. Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth was enthusiastic that the bill will have immediate impact.

“It will fundamentally change the trajectory of education reform in Indianapolis,” he said. “It will enable IPS to chart its own destiny.”

House Bill 1321 gives IPS the authority to hand empty buildings over for charter schools to use, or to hire charter school operators to run an IPS school. Under these partnerships, charter schools get much needed building space or services like transportation and, in return, IPS can take credit for their state test score gains by counting them in the district’s averages.
Ferebee has said he envisions forging deals with either outside groups, like charter school management organizations, or internal groups, like Project Restore, to manage schools rated a D or F for three years. Project Restore is a school design invented by School 99 teachers that is now used at two schools.

Ferebee has backed the bill because it could give the district a lever it can use to guide the location of some charter schools. It also could be a way to negotiate a share of state aid, he said, or perhaps even a portion of outside grants that charter schools receive. It also gives IPS an option to share its building space, a large portion of which is unoccupied. The bill was crafted with input from Ferebee, Mayor Greg Ballard’s staff and Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis.

“IPS is expending significant financial resources on underutilized facilities,” Kloth said. “This bill will enable IPS to capture student enrollment and better use its space.”

The bill passed the House last month and now goes to a conference committee, which will iron out the differences between the two versions. Then the revised bill will need approval again in the House and Senate, along with Gov. Mike Pence’s signature, to become law.

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