Is Indianapolis Public Schools handing over its lowest-performing school to a charter operator on a “silver platter?”
That’s how one IPS school board member decried a pending contract between IPS and Phalen Leadership Academy, which next year will independently manage School 103 on the East side.
Though Phalen will run the school and hire its own staff, IPS will pay to Phalen a hefty management fee, a lump sum to help set up the school and money for the building’s upkeep. It will also foot the bill for the cost of busing students to school and supporting the school’s special education students and English language learners, among a host of other items negotiated the group’s lawyers.
The board is set to vote on the contract Thursday.
“We talk about trying to achieve some balance in terms of (spending) across the district and we are presenting ourselves with this huge outlier,” said board member Gayle Cosby. “I don’t think we could offer anything else.”
But Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and other board members defended the spending. They said it costs a lot of money to reopen or redesign a school, citing the district’s recent plan to spend more than $1 million to reopen Arlington High School as an IPS school after three years run by a charter school network after it was taken over by the state.
“Like any other transition we would have in the district, we would allocate resources to ensure the transition is smooth,” Ferebee said.
Lawyers are still working out a few final details of the plan, district officials said Tuesday. But some details were shared Tuesday.
When it comes to basic operating money, IPS will pay Phalen $7,620 per student. Ferebee said that number reflects the district’s $7,058 per student state aid amount along with some grant money from federal poverty aid and a few other sources.
IPS will pay Phalen a management fee equivalent to 10 percent of the per student state aid amount for each monthly payment. If the school’s enrollment stays at about 340 next year, that management fee would be more than $250,000 by year’s end. The disrict also will pay Phalen $175,000 in start up funds and about $250,000 to pay for Phalen’s computer software at the school.
“There’s nothing more important than improving the quality of education (at the school),” Cosby said. “I just want to make sure we don’t overextend ourselves in this partnership.”
The school will be allowed to have its own governing board, which will occasionally report to the IPS school board.
Ferebee said providing services for special education students and English language learners was a “sticking point” for the district.
“We have legal obligations for second language learners,” Ferebee said. “We want to ensure those needs were being met. We agreed IPS was best positioned to fulfill those obligations.”
Board member Sam Odle argued spending more on the school made sense because the students ultimately belong to IPS. The partnership with Phalen isn’t a takeover, he said. The district counts the students in its enrollment and oversees its performance just like other IPS schools.
“The money’s being invested in our students,” Odle said. “It’s not being invested in somebody else.”
Board member Kelly Bentley cheered the plan, but said the district needs a plan to expand its own successful school models, including magnet programs and high-performing neighborhood schools.
“Are we working on a process that will help the district to expand and replicate those programs?” Bentley said. “We’ve got these great opportunities with innovation schools coming up, but I think it would be great if we could also focus internally.”