Fundraising Frustration

Disparities grow as parent groups raise money to cover school funding gaps

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Carmen Stevens, left, and Amarria Miller volunteer at their classroom's bake sale in December 2015. The Gilpin Montessori students were raising funds for their class pets.

Stephenie Falcone’s children attend two Denver schools just a mile apart, but when it comes to fundraising power, the differences are vast.

The contrast was particularly stark on Tuesday, December 8.

At Gilpin Montessori that afternoon, parents and students scraped together $300 by selling nut-free zucchini bread, red velvet cookies and bagels during the school’s “Winter Wonderland” concert. Nearly three-quarters of the school’s students come from low-income families.

On the very same day, a parent-teacher group at Polaris at Ebert Elementary, a gifted and talented magnet school with few poor students, raised $14,400 through a direct giving campaign associated with Colorado Gives Day.

The gap between the two schools’ fundraising tallies will likely exceed $100,000 by the end of the year—with Gilpin’s parents covering expenses like books, soccer T-shirts and field trips while Polaris parents raise enough to cover teacher or paraprofessional salaries.

The disparity between the two schools is hardly unique. The school fundraising playing field has always been uneven—reflecting the socioeconomic status of each school’s population—so the same story plays out across Denver and the state.

But observers say it’s gotten worse in recent years as state education cuts have forced more expenses onto the shoulders of Colorado parents—in the form of additional fees and ever-increasing fundraising goals. While high-powered parent groups work mightily to compensate for slashed funding, many schools slog along with low-dollar butter braid sales. And so the divide grows.

"You’re dropping ice cubes into boiling water and it’s better, but as long as the source of problem is getting worse you just cannot keep up."Lisa Weil, executive director, Great Education Colorado

“This is the state not fulfilling the obligation to our kids,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a group that advocates for improved state education funding.

Colorado ranked 43 among states and Washington, DC for per-pupil education funding, according to Education Week’s 2015 Quality Counts report, a wide-ranging look at education trends.

Weil likened the growing fundraising burden to a frog in boiling water—with the water heating so gradually, there’s no sudden sense of danger.

“Parents need to realize that the water has been boiling for a while.”

With every infusion of fundraising cash, she said, “You’re dropping ice cubes into boiling water and it’s better, but as long as the source of problem is getting worse you just cannot keep up.”

Efforts exist to pump up low-income schools’ fundraising muscle or share fundraising proceeds among schools, but they’re not widespread.

As a parent of children at two very different schools, Falcone doesn’t fault Polaris parents for their fundraising prowess, but wishes more could be done to close the gap.

At Gilpin, she said, raising big bucks is like “chipping away at a giant glacier with a spoon.”

The fortunate few

A scan of Guidestar’s database of nonprofit financial reports reveals that more than a half-dozen Colorado PTAs or PTOs—most in Denver—reported income of $200,000 or more in 2013. At least a dozen more reported more than $100,000.

“I don’t blame them,” said Shawna Fritzler, a Jeffco parent and treasurer of the Colorado PTA. “I want to do the best for my school, too. But at the same time, I hate creating that inequity.”

Slavens, Steele, Bromwell, Westerly Creek, Lowry, Bill Roberts, Cory, Swigert and University Park are among the highest fundraising schools in Denver, according to Guidestar. There are also several high-grossing schools outside the city, though their fundraising proceeds tend to be somewhat lower than Denver’s top tier.

"I want to do the best for my school, too. But at the same time, I hate creating that inequity."Shawna Fritzler, Colorado PTA treasurer

At many higher-income schools, parents have the time and know-how to organize galas, wine-tastings and auctions. They may be able to line up lucrative sponsorships or secure big-ticket auction items—things like week-long Mexican getaways, autographed sports memorabilia or limousine outings.

Many also have the means to attend ticketed fundraisers and contribute generously to their schools’ direct giving campaigns.

But tapping parents in the same way at Gilpin and many other district schools is unrealistic.

“Our school has working parents, single parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren,” said Jenn Koelliker, who has three children at Gilpin and a baby at home. “We don’t have stay-at-home moms with middle-class backgrounds like myself going out and using their free time to raise money.”

A contribution from every family

Slavens in southeast Denver, reported earning $260,000 from six fundraising events in 2013—$187,000 of that from an auction, according to IRS documents.

The K-8 school, where just 8 percent of students are eligible for free or discounted meals, clearly communicates its expectation that families contribute to the “culture of giving,” stating on its website, “We encourage parents to give of their time, money and talent every year…Our goal is to achieve 100% participation.”

The school also gives back to the community—donating $5,000 annually to the Denver Public Schools Foundation, providing holiday gifts to families at nearby Ellis Elementary and facilitating student-led fundraisers for charities such as Ronald McDonald House.

Principal Kurt Siebold acknowledged that Slavens is among the fortunate few, but said even with the PTA’s ambitious fundraising efforts the school isn’t staffed as well as it was nine years ago when he started there.

“I’ve had to tighten the belt in the whole school budget,” he said.

He said the problem is even greater for schools in the middle of the socioeconomic pack—the ones that don’t pack a hard fundraising punch but don’t receive federal Title 1 funds earmarked for schools with large low-income populations.

Mark Ferrandino, Denver Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer, agreed and said that such schools can get access to a special $8 million pot of district money called “budget assistance.”

That funding is generally doled out in $75,000-$120,000 chunks, depending on the school’s needs, he said.

Lack of transparency

There’s not much transparency in the school fundraising world. Most parent groups operate in relative seclusion, with record-keeping typically left to volunteers.

While Guidestar provides IRS records for PTA chapters or similar parent groups, they are sometimes out-of-date or incomplete. Some parent groups don’t submit them at all.

The state education department doesn’t track school fundraising either. School districts may track the money to some extent, but it’s not typically accessible to the public.

In response to a question from Chalkbeat about school-by-school fundraising totals, Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones wrote via email that it would take 80 to 100 hours to audit the accounts where schools’ fundraising proceeds are held.

But most people aren’t clamoring for such information anyway.

In addition, many don’t understand how state education funding impacts the school fundraising landscape, said Jonna Levine, public policy director for Colorado PTA.

A lot of people don’t “pay attention to what’s going on and what creates that fundraising hole.”

Cupcakes for sale

Back in December, three Gilpin fifth-graders helped man the bake sale table in the school’s foyer. Cookies were two for 50 cents and a large heart-shaped brownie was going for $10. Hot coffee and cocoa were available for a donation.

Eymi Velazquez, center right, takes money from a Gilpin Montessori parent in December. Velazequez helped raise money for her classroom's pets.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Eymi Velazquez, center right, takes money from a Gilpin Montessori parent in December. Velazequez helped raise money for her classroom’s pets.

The students were raising money to care for their classroom pets—lizards and iguanas.

While hundreds of parents flowed in and out of the auditorium, few stopped to buy treats. Parent Iema Velazquez, who supervised the students, said most customers were parents who’d baked or donated items for the sale.

“They’re the same ones who buy,” she said with a shrug.

At a more affluent school, collecting money for pet supplies would be an easier lift, Koelliker said.

“Normally a room parent would say, ‘Hey, everybody give me $5.’ That doesn’t work in our school,” she said.

The same is true across town at Place Bridge Academy, where 95 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals and many are refugees from war-torn countries.

"Normally a room parent would say, ‘Hey, everybody give me $5.’ That doesn’t work in our school."Jenn Koelliker, Gilpin parent

Parents there don’t organize any school fundraisers. Instead, staff members spearhead the annual candy sale, which reaps about $2,500 for the school.

Principal Brenda Kazin said she’d like to see more money coming in, especially to help with after-school busing costs. But aside from applying for grants, there’s not a lot she can do.

“I just live with it and I do what I can to make sure the children get something from the extra money that we have,” she said.

Paying for staff

Financial documents for schools that routinely raise $100,000 or more a year reveal that many are using the money to pay for staff salaries—allowing them to lower staff-student ratios, give teachers more planning time or offer instruction that might not otherwise be available.

For example, fundraising by the Polaris PTO this year helped pay for two teachers, according to the group’s minutes. The PTO’s statement on the Colorado Gives website says fundraising money helps provide aides in every classroom, a full-time librarian and full-time art, music and physical education teachers.

The same website shows that at Steele Elementary in the affluent Washington Park neighborhood, the PTA pays for paraprofessionals or interns in every classroom and two part-time intervention teachers.

At Lowry Elementary, a more mixed-income school in the upscale Lowry development, the PTO helps pay for additional paraprofessionals, a gifted and talented teacher, a full-time intervention teacher and a humanities facilitator.

To experts, recurring expenses such as staff salaries shouldn’t fall to parents. They’re basics that should be covered by state per-pupil funding.

“You never want to fundraise for salaries or benefits or to pay your rent or your water bill,” said Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

Among the state’s six largest districts, Cherry Creek, Douglas County, Aurora and Adams 12, have no policies addressing the use of parent group donations for staff salaries.

"There’s got to be a way to provide the same fundraising advantage for poor neighborhoods."Stephenie Falcone, Gilpin and Polaris parent

Denver and Jeffco have nearly identical policies on the issue.

Both say that principals have discretion when it comes to donations for classified staff, but that donations to employ teachers with daily classroom responsibilities should be handled centrally, with top administrators determining “the distribution of such donations based on need, equity and other school specific variables.”

Denver Public School administrators said district leaders try to honor the intentions of the donating group and that the “school specific” provision allows for flexibility in applying the policy.

Even at Gilpin—where annual fundraising tops out at $15,000—generating enough money to pay for additional staff is the ultimate goal.

Parents who are part of the school’s fundraising arm, “Friend of Gilpin,” say they need $60,000 to bring back seven City Year staff members who last year served as mentors and coaches. The energetic college graduates provided extra hands in the classroom and eased discipline problems at the school, which is under threat of closure.

“I have seen it save small boys specifically,” said Koelliker. “My goal is to raise that kind of money this year.”

But most of it won’t come out of parents’ pocketbooks. In fact, the school’s most successful fundraiser is a home tour in the Five Points neighborhood that targets community members rather than parents. Last year’s inaugural tour brought in $4,000 and this year it raised $8,000.

Still, it’s a far cry from $60,000, and that’s why both Koelliker and Falcone are still searching for their golden ticket.

“There’s got to be a way to provide the same fundraising advantage for poor neighborhoods,” said Falcone.

“Public school is not free anymore.”

No easy answers

While some parents and educators daydream about a scenario in which affluent schools share their fundraising proceeds with struggling schools, they know there would be resistance.

"I just live with it and I do what I can to make sure the children get something from the extra money that we have."Brenda Kazin, principal, Place Bridge Academy

“I think you’d get pushback from the parents,” said Kazin, the Place Bridge Academy principal. “They have the right to spend their money where they want to.”

That said, many schools do extend help to the less advantaged—say, by contributing to a community nonprofit or offering help to a sister school. Such contributions can be a hodgepodge, however, neither sustained nor systematic.

School district foundations often direct money to high-needs schools, but not exclusively. For example, the Denver Public Schools Foundation offers some types of assistance through a grant process and some to schools where at least 70 percent of students are low-income.

In northwest Denver, an annual bar and restaurant crawl called “Totally Tennyson” provides something of an antidote to the every-man-for-himself model of school fundraising. The event, originally run by the online community Highland Mommies and now privately managed, raises around $60,000 for 15 schools in the area—both high-income and low-income.

"Until people really start coming out in droves, it’s not going to change."Jonna Levine, public policy director, Colorado PTA

The money isn’t divided evenly, though. A school’s take depends partly on the number of $25 tickets parents and staff there sell and how many volunteers each school provides to help run the event. Additional funds are distributed based on a formula that takes a school’s need into account.

To leaders of Colorado’s PTA, the perennial focus on fundraising by parent groups is a long-standing problem. They say the primary goal of PTA chapters should be advocacy.

“You have some parents who can fundraise like nobody’s business,” Levine said.

But they could make a big difference if they put some of that energy into advocating for state-level change—for example, writing letters and making phone calls urging lawmakers to address the school funding crisis.

“Until people really start coming out in droves,” she said, “it’s not going to change.”

Deputy Bureau Chief Nic Garcia contributed to this report.

If you’d like to share your school’s unique fundraising challenge or solution with Chalkbeat, email us at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.

finish line

A $1.6 billion tax increase for Colorado education just got a lot closer to the ballot

Joi Lin, a Boulder Valley Education Association employee, checks notary pages on petitions for Great Schools, Thriving communities. (Erica Meltzer/Chalkbeat)

Supporters of more funding for Colorado schools turned in more than 170,000 signatures Wednesday to place a $1.6 billion tax measure on the November ballot.

If approved, the measure would increase the corporate tax rate and the income tax rate on individuals earning $150,000 or more, with the additional revenue going to increase base per-student funding, to pay for full-day kindergarten, and to put more money toward students with special needs, such as those learning English, those with disabilities, and those who are gifted and talented.

Organizers said volunteers collected more than 111,000 signatures, with paid canvassers collecting the rest to build up a substantial cushion and make approval more certain.  The measure needs 98,492 valid signatures to get in front of voters. Inevitably, some signatures are rejected for a variety of reasons. The day before the Wednesday deadline, volunteers were going over petition packets a third time to check for mistakes before turning them in.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office still needs to verify the signatures. Under tougher requirements approved in 2016, those signatures need to represent 2 percent of the registered voters in each of the state’s 35 senate districts – and to pass, the measure will need support from 55 percent of voters.

Getting that support will be no easy task, considering that the last attempt to raise taxes for schools, Amendment 66 in 2013, was defeated 2 to 1. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires all tax increases to be approved by voters, and they’ve been loathe to approve statewide taxes for any cause, even as local school districts have been more successful.

Cathy Kipp, a school board member from the Fort Collins-based Poudre district, personally collected more than 4,000 signatures around the state, and she said she was pleased to see support from ordinary people even in many conservative communities. That decisions about how to spend the money would be made locally is key to winning over voters, she said.

“The money will be spent however the local school district wants to spend it,” she said. “I knew teachers last time who didn’t want to vote for (Amendment 66) because it was so proscriptive.”

Kipp said Poudre likely would use the money to improve mental health services for students and raise teacher salaries.

Supporters believe the more challenging petition process, which required them to fan out across the state, will ultimately be to their advantage in the campaign to come.

“We have education supporters having conversations around the state about what additional revenue could mean for them,” said Susan Meek, a spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado, a key organization backing the tax increase. “The money will be spent locally. Every school district can go out and say what it would mean for them. Perhaps it is vocational-technical education. Perhaps it’s having school five days a week. Perhaps it is having a counselor in every school.”

And to make the case that a statewide tax on businesses and those with higher incomes is a better way to raise money than local taxes, supporters have broken down how much money each district would get and how large a property tax increase it would take to raise that money locally. Often, it’s a very big number.

Colorado ranks 28th among the states in per-student funding, according to the most recent report from the National Education Association, which includes local, state, and federal funding in its comparison. However, Colorado spends much less than other states of comparable wealth and generally gets poor marks for equity. School districts vary enormously in how much they spend on each student, and half the districts in the state are operating on four-day weeks because they can’t afford to be open more than that.

Since the Great Recession, state lawmakers have withheld roughly $7.5 billion that would have gone to K-12 education under a constitutionally mandated formula. The 2018-19 state budget includes a 6.95 percent increase for education, roughly $475 more per student, but supporters of more money for schools say that the increase doesn’t begin to address years of underfunding.

“It’s hard for people to understand how you can have one of the fastest growing economies in the nation and can’t fund schools at the level you did before the Great Recession,” said Tracie Rainey, executive director of the Colorado School Finance Project, another backer of the initiative.

The only way to really address the issue is a major source of new revenue, they say. And that’s what Initiative 93 would provide.

The tax measure calls for:

  • Raising the corporate income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 6 percent.
  • Raising the income tax rate from a flat 4.63 percent to between 5 percent and 8.25 percent for people earning more than $150,000. The highest tax rate would be paid by people earning $500,000 or more.
  • Setting the residential property assessment rate at 7 percent for schools. That’s lower than it is now but higher than it is predicted to be in 2019 because current law has the unintended effect of gradually reducing the residential assessment rate.
  • Setting the non-residential property assessment rate at 24 percent, less than the current 29 percent.

According to a fiscal analysis by the state, the average taxpayer earning more than $150,000 would pay an additional $519 a year, while those earning less would be unaffected. The average corporate taxpayer would pay an additional $11,085 a year. The change in property taxes would vary considerably around the state, but based on the average statewide school levy, many property owners would pay $28 more on each $100,000 of market value in 2019 than they otherwise would. Commercial property owners will see a decrease.

Total property tax revenue collected by school districts is expected to go down statewide, but the measure would partly stabilize property assessments, whose volatility has complicated school finance in Colorado.

A 1982 provision called the Gallagher Amendment sets a formula for the share of property taxes paid by residential and commercial owners, with the effect that skyrocketing values along the Front Range have ratcheted down residential assessment rates across the state. But in poorer rural communities without the tax base of cities like Denver or Boulder, that’s had devastating consequences for school districts, fire districts, and other small taxing entities, even as business owners, ranchers, and farmers have faced a heavier burden.

The state has had to make up much of the difference, and lawmakers are meeting during the off-season to try to come up with a fix. Any change would require voter approval – and could be a tough sell in part because it would be hard to explain.

Initiative 93 only deals with the assessment rate for schools in order to comply with Colorado’s single-subject rule for ballot measures, but it does represent a partial Gallagher fix. This provision was included for several reasons. One, it means that new revenue will actually increase school funding, rather than simply backfilling ever declining local taxes, and two, it provides some tax relief to ranchers and farmers, a selling point in rural communities that have been more reluctant to approve tax increases. And there’s a third argument, that stabilizing property tax revenue will free up more money in the state budget for other needs beyond education.

There are other things that make this effort different from past attempts, supporters say. Amendment 66 was widely perceived as a top-down effort that came from Denver. It raised taxes on everyone, and it made changes to the school finance formula that created winners and losers among districts, making it hard for many school board members and superintendents to support it.

Supporters of Initiative 93 describe it as being built from the ground up over a two-year process that included lots of input from school districts across the state, as well as from advocacy organizations like the NAACP and Padres y Jóvenes Unidos. It raises taxes only on businesses and higher-income earners, who represent less than 8 percent of individual income tax returns, and while it encourages the legislature to adopt a new school finance formula, it ensures that every district will see an increase.

Skeptics see just another attempt to throw money at the problem.

“Things are different this time, and it’s that they’re asking for more money,” said Luke Ragland of the conservative education reform group Ready Colorado.

A better approach, Ragland said, would be to tie increased funding to policies that could be expected to improve educational outcomes. There’s no guarantee that this money will make it into the classroom or into teachers’ paychecks, he said.

“There are places in terms of human capital, in terms of attracting talent and keeping it in the classroom, where more money would make a difference, but not just pouring more money into the current system,” he said.

Supporters of the measure will be campaigning in a complicated political environment, possibly sharing the ballot with a major tax increase for transportation, as well as a governor’s race and legislative contests that will determine control of the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority.

Candidates up and down the ballot likely will be asked to take a position on the ballot measure, layering partisan politics over a measure that supporters hope will have broad appeal.

“You start this analysis with the assumption that it’s an uphill battle because we don’t really pass statewide tax increases, while schools pass lots of local taxes and bond measures,” said political consultant and pollster Floyd Ciruli. “The difference is trust. At the statewide level, people don’t trust that the money will go to benefit their local schools.”

Ciruli sees advantages, though, to asking voters in a mid-term election. Turnout will be higher than in an off-year, when older, more conservative voters tend to dominate, and even-year voters are more likely to have Democratic tendencies and be more open to taxes.

The contentious Democratic primary, which focused on education, also “primed” voters to see low funding as a key problem for schools, he said.

“The environment is pro-education,” Ciruli said. That places the tax measure “in the ballpark, but it’s still a challenge to do a statewide tax increase.”

Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, said the organizations working on the measure decided not to worry too much about “conventional wisdom” and move forward until they saw a compelling reason not to put something on the ballot.

“We’re not naive about the fact that we’re in a political environment, but we’re also creating that political environment,” she said. “Our entire state has a hunger to do right by kids.”

IPS referendum

To bring down potential tax hikes, chamber proposes slashing Indianapolis Public Schools budget

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students walk through the halls at the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Technical High School.

In a political showdown, one of the most vocal supporters of Indianapolis Public Schools is pressuring the district’s administration to make aggressive budget cuts and significantly reduce its request for more taxpayer money.

The Indy Chamber unveiled a plan Wednesday proposing nearly $500 million in sweeping cuts to Indianapolis Public Schools over eight years. And the chamber drew a line for its support of requesting more money from taxpayers: Chamber officials say they believe the district should only ask for $152 million in additional funding through tax increases, a significant reduction from what started as a nearly $1 billion request.

The district is set to decide next week how much it will seek from taxpayers in November.

Philanthropist and influential business leader Al Hubbard, who played a significant role in the analysis, gave an unvarnished pitch for the district to embrace the chamber’s recommendation during a press conference.

“Our hope is that they are going to embrace this proposal,” Hubbard said. “If they propose a referendum that’s higher than this, we will have to oppose them.”

But the district pushed back. In a statement, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said the district will continue to work with the chamber as officials work toward a referendum amount. But he raised concerns about the cost-cutting measures recommended, particularly what he described as closing a “devastating” number of schools.

“IPS is committed to further action to reduce unnecessary expenditures,” Ferebee said. “We believe, however, that a responsible referendum request cannot be anchored solely in revenue from cost savings that to this point are on paper only.”

The report came on the heels of months of work between the district and the chamber after the school board agreed to delay a plan to ask voters for more money in May. In exchange for the delay, the chamber committed to analyze Indianapolis Public Schools’ finances, help draft a new request — and, importantly, lend its political support to a tax increase.

The proposal now puts school officials are in a bind: If they adopt the chamber’s plan, or something similar, they will need to dramatically overhaul district spending in the coming years. Alternatively, if they reject the austerity measures, they could lose the chamber’s support and struggle to persuade voters that more funding is essential.

The largest savings in the chamber’s plan, expected to save $477 million over eight years, would come from:

  • Reducing the number of teachers through attrition ($126 million).
  • Eliminating busing for high school students and relying on public transit ($121 million).
  • Reducing unused space more than likely by closing schools ($100 million).
  • Cutting the central office staff by 50 percent ($33 million).
  • Reducing the number of custodians ($19 million).

Another $62 million would come from “operating efficiencies,” a bucket that includes wide-ranging suggestions such as cutting classroom assistants, contracting out nursing, expanding health savings accounts for employees, and switching to an internet phone system.

Ahmed Young, the chief of staff for the district, said Indianapolis Public Schools has significantly cut spending on its central office and sold underused properties in recent years. He said the district would continue to work with the chamber to come to an agreement in the coming days.

“There are elements that we disagree on obviously, and we are going to continue to lift up our hood and make sure our engine is running properly,” he said.

The plan also includes two potentially controversial real estate deals. It calls for leasing the Broad Ripple High School building to Purdue Polytechnic High School and Indianapolis Classical Schools, which runs Herron High School. That proposal has ignited controversy in recent weeks, as local political leaders have put increasing pressure on the district to accept an offer for the building, while Indianapolis Public Schools officials have said they plan to have an open process to gauge interest. The chamber is also calling for the district to look into selling its central office building, which officials are already considering.

The chamber contends that the cuts it recommends could balance the district’s budget — which is projected to have a deficit of about $45 million next school year. But the chamber is also proposing $243 million in extra spending on teacher and principal pay to reduce turnover and make Indianapolis Public Schools more competitive with nearby districts.

Indianapolis Public Schools spends the most per student of any comparable district, according to chamber data from 2016-17. But its teacher pay is relatively low compared to other districts, especially for mid- and late-career teachers. In part, that’s because the district only spends about 47 percent of its budget in classrooms, according to the chamber.

Under the chamber’s plan, teacher pay would go up by 16 percent and principal pay would rise to $150,000 per year by 2020-21. After that, all IPS employees would receive 2 percent raises each year.

To fund those raises, the chamber is proposing increasing local funding by $100 million for operating expenses, such as teacher pay, over eight years by asking voters to approve a tax increase. The plan also includes a second tax measure to raise $52 million for building improvements, primarily focused on safety, that was announced by the district in June.

That’s a significant decrease from the district’s original proposal for referendums. Indianapolis Public Schools officials announced last year that they would seek nearly $1 billion more over eight years from local taxpayers in May. After that plan failed to gain support from community leaders, the district first reduced its request and then delayed the vote until November.

The chamber acknowledged that the cuts it is recommending would be painful.

“What we are asking them to do is tough. Closing schools is very difficult. Reducing the number of employees is very difficult,” said Hubbard. “At the same time, we think it’s unfair to the taxpayer to pay for empty seats or to pay for unnecessary staff.”

School board president Michael O’Connor said the district has had a longstanding partnership with the Indy Chamber, and he expects them to come to an agreement in the coming days.

“If we keep that perspective, that we’ve been partners on a lot of very difficult things, in the forefront, and we keep talking between now and Tuesday afternoon at 5:45 p.m., I think we will probably find some common ground,” he said.

The chamber’s report echoes a similar finding in 2014, when the district was projected to run a budget deficit. The chamber made similar recommendations, including selling the district’s headquarters and relying more on public transportation. The administration eventually implemented some of those suggestions, but concerns about the deficit dissipated when it was revealed to be an accounting error.

The current Indianapolis Public Schools administration is often lauded by the business community, and the chamber, for steps it has taken to transform the district in recent years, including the push for more school choices and the closure of some underused high schools. Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber echoed that support Wednesday, describing Ferebee as “one of the best superintendents in the country.”

“We very much believe in Dr. Ferebee’s abilities to implement these solutions,” Huber said. “We wouldn’t be wasting our time throwing out hypotheticals or theoretical solutions.”

The plan was crafted by consultants from Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting and Policy Analytics, LLC, who had access to reams of information and prior reports from Indianapolis Public Schools.

This story has been updated.