Indianapolis Public School Board President Annie Roof said Wednesday The Mind Trust broke a written agreement by choosing three $100,000 fellowship winners without getting enough input from district officials.
The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group, announced in May that it would fund up to nine more “innovation fellowships” over three years, jointly selecting educators to develop new school reform plans with the goal that the IPS board could select the best ones to help turn around some of its most troubled schools.
But that’s not what happened, said Roof, who was one of two IPS board members on the joint selection committee. The program could even dissolve if IPS withdraws its support.
“They did not uphold their end of the (agreement) which leaves me concerned about this contract,” Roof said. “I’m cautious to continue.”
David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust, said in a statement that his organization stands by the process it followed to select the fellows.
“We’re fully comfortable that we followed the process we set out for selecting innovation school fellows, and we’re happy to continue working with the district to refine that process,” Harris said. “We’re now focused on equipping the innovation school fellows to start high quality schools that will provide excellent educational opportunities for students within IPS.”
The three fellows will each earn $100,000 this year to develop and implement their own ideas for how to create a successful public school. If IPS approves their ideas, they could open a new school as early as next fall.
But Roof and board member Gayle Cosby, who was also on the selection committee along with Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, city officials and others, said they were shocked to find a pool of only four people to choose from for three fellowship spots. The expected to review closer to half of more than 60 who applied. The Memorandum of Understanding the board signed with The Mind Trust states that the district will work “in consultation with IPS … to review fellowship application(s).”
“My understanding before heading into the process is that we would be allowed to review a summary or a broad view (of candidates),” Cosby said. “To only be invited to review the final four selections … was a bit concerning. The field was very narrow.”
Roof also argued the three winners were never actually endorsed by the district, as required by the agreement.
Heather Tsavaris, a former federal counter-terrorism official, Lauren Franklin, principal of IPS School 56, and a team of Earl Phalen and Marlon Llewellyn were chosen as the fellows. Phalen is the founder of an Indianapolis charter schools and Llewellyn has been a school administrator for public and charter schools.
“When we left that day, the committee as a whole was under the understanding that we didn’t come to a conclusion of any candidate,” Roof said. “We walked away thinking that we were going to reconvene in a year and try this again. I felt kind of blindsided in a couple days when they announced the candidates. I read it in the newspaper.”
Roof informed board members of her concerns Wednesday at a school board committee meeting.
“My signature is on it,” Roof said. “As president of the board, it’s my job to make sure the contract was upheld, and it wasn’t.”
Board member Caitlin Hannon, who was not at the meeting because she is not on the committee, which was formed to evaluate future partnerships with charter schools and others, said she is enthusiastic about the fellowship program and she stressed that the district ultimately has control over who opens a school.
“Our place of control is in determining the actual contract for the people who will run the actual school,” Hannon said. “That makes me comfortable.”
Ferebee told the board that he also was not given the opportunity to review more than four fellowship finalists. He suggested a meeting to find a solution.
“My recommendation is to just to be fair and give them an opportunity to respond,” Ferebee said.
Other board members said they were also concerned about how the process unfolded and uncertain about the future of what was supposed to be a three year partnership with The Mind Trust investing up to $900,000 to develop ideas it hoped could help improve IPS schools.
“If we don’t talk about that now, we don’t move forward with the next piece,” Arnold said. “This is a great opportunity and we might get some wonderful (ideas) to help our kids. I don’t want to say we don’t want to play.”
Roof was reluctant, but said she would agree to a meeting.
“The situation would give me pause,” Roof said. “I’m not against the partnership or people wanting to do things for IPS. It’s our job to make sure IPS is making good decisions.”