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IPS board members spar over school autonomy

Residents in the Munger Elementary School neighborhood will receive hundreds of books over the next three years to build better reading skills in youngsters.
Residents in the Munger Elementary School neighborhood will receive hundreds of books over the next three years to build better reading skills in youngsters.
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The seven members of the Indianapolis Public School Board don’t expect everyone to agree about how exactly the school autonomy they have promised for the district should be defined.

But even naming a committee to gather consensus on the topic prompted angry words and accusations tonight during a school board meeting.

School board President Diane Arnold said each member could probably come up with their own idea of the best way to reduce bureaucracy and give more control of running IPS schools to their principals.

But when Arnold announced she was naming a new committee to develop ideas about the best way for IPS to pursue autonomy the trouble started.

Board members Mary Ann Sullivan and Sam Odle, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, two principals, a teacher and other administrators were selected.

Missing from the list: board member Gayle Cosby.

Cosby, who is often at odds with Arnold, was peeved.

Cosby said she was blindsided to be excluded even though she asked to be part of discussions involving autonomy.

“You are purposely being exclusionary of certain board members,” Cosby told Arnold at the meeting.

Arnold said she wanted to keep the group small and invite people who would be affected by the changes. She said other board members and the public will have the opportunity to provide feedback after the group makes its recommendation.

“The board will have the opportunity to discuss it and comment and provide input at that time,” Arnold said. “If the board says no, we’ll figure out something else to do.”

Cosby said she thought the board should develop more concrete ideas about what it wants before autonomy questions were handed off to another group to research. The board met at a casual Sunday meeting in March about the subject but no final decisions were made.

“The seven of us are tasked with driving the future of this district,” Cosby said. “If we cannot come together to define this critical concept that’s driving everything that we’re working on, I don’t hold much hope for the future.”

Arnold insisted leaving Cosby out was not personal.

“If we didn’t want it to be transparent we wouldn’t have announced it at a public meeting,” Arnold said. “We’ve never had a better opportunity to turn this district around. If we don’t do it, shame on us. We have to move.”

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