|INDIANAPOLIS, June 28, 2017: Today, the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Superintendent Lewis Ferebee will announce recommendations from the IPS Facilities Task Force to reduce the district’s high schools from seven to four. The Task Force found that IPS high schools are “two-thirds empty” overall; the IPS Board of Commissioners will review the plan to close three high schools for the 2018-19 school year, and are expected to take final action in September after holding additional public meetings in affected neighborhoods.
The Indy Chamber spoke out in favor of the Task Force findings in advance of Wednesday's announcement. In 2013, the Chamber organized a group of corporate and civic leaders to conduct an Operational Analysis of IPS, bringing private sector expertise to the task of helping the district run more efficiently and shift funding from administrative expenses to academic needs.
Since the Operational Analysis was completed, IPS has executed 87% of the recommendations; the work of the Facilities Task Force represents its final major strategic goal.
“The IPS Operational Analysis has helped deal with enrollment and structural budget challenges by tackling overhead costs, allowing the district to spend less time on these issues and more time focused on educational achievement,” said Mark Fisher, the Indy Chamber’s Chief Policy Officer. “Closing schools was the toughest recommendation to make, but also an unavoidable one – ultimately, IPS has to prioritize students and teachers over bricks and mortar.”
Fiscal stability supports academic progress in IPS:
As IPS has addressed opportunities like outsourcing warehouse and bus maintenance services, implementing more efficient bus routes and staggering class schedules, the district has gained millions of dollars a year to recruit and retain teachers, create magnet and innovation schools, and align programs and curricula with college requirements and the demands of the job market.
These efforts are paying off. The number of failing schools under state law has been cut in half, graduation rates and reading scores (IREAD-3) are up, and more IPS students are earning early college credits, vocational certifications and taking on internships.
“Since IPS began implementing the Operational Analysis, they’ve slashed the central office budget by almost a third, increased starting teacher salaries by 12% and offered families in the district more options – including forming productive partnerships with local charters while launching their own innovation schools,” noted Fisher.
“But at the same time, general revenues have gone down nearly 25% since 2010, and the district still faces a structural deficit approaching $20M. To keep its progress going, IPS can’t afford to keep up the costs of operating and maintaining nearly-empty high school buildings.”
High school choices will be controversial, but a common-sense necessity:
The Facilities Task Force report notes a wide gap between enrollment and capacity in the seven IPS high schools. The best-utilized building has enough students to fill 60% of available classroom seats; three schools are operating at less than 30% capacity.
“We’re speaking out ahead of tonight’s meeting because it’s up to the board and the administration to lay out specifics on closing and realigning schools,” Fisher explained. “As a business community, we simply ask policymakers and the public to acknowledge some basic math: We have high school facilities built for nearly 15,000 students, and a current enrollment less than 5,500.
Over the last decade, IPS has seen high school enrollment drop nearly 40%. Since the 1960s, Center Township has lost nearly 60% of its total population. “Over the last few years, IPS enrollment has stabilized, and some downtown neighborhoods are growing – mostly from single and young married households. But we have to face facts: IPS high schools are underutilized, significant deficits still loom, and no one wants to cut important academic programs.
“Closing high schools is a last resort, and we understand that it’s a difficult and emotional issue for the families, students and alumni with ties to these community landmarks,” Fisher continued. “IPS is leading an open and honest dialogue among administrators, educators, parents and the community-at-large. But the numbers are clear: This is the only way to keep teachers and counselors on the job with competitive salaries, continue investing in programs that prepare students for success after graduation and avoid taking away some of the great learning opportunities that IPS has been able to offer in recent years.”
Fisher also emphasized the need for local decision-making on the high school closures.
“The Task Force and the IPS board have listened carefully to the concerns of parents and their other constituents,” he said. “We’re confident they’ll move cautiously over the next year-and-a-half to minimize the day-to-day impact on students. This year in the General Assembly, lawmakers made the tough call to take control of financially-troubled districts like Gary and Muncie. We have an opportunity to make these decisions collaboratively, closer to home – we shouldn’t invite a less-appealing alternative by stalling now.”
Fisher added that he expected the Task Force and Board to work together on a plan to launch improved academic options at the four remaining IPS high schools in 2018-19, and expressed the Chamber’s willingness to support efforts to maintain the three closed schools as civic assets that serve surrounding neighborhoods and potentially add to the local tax base.