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Bennett Raises Possibility Of Withholding IPS Funding Over State Takeovers

Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

State superintendent Tony Bennett presides over an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.

Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett raised the possibility that Indianapolis Public Schools’ state funding could be withheld if, as he characterized it, IPS administrators continue to drag their feet during the transition process of state intervention or takeover at six of the district’s schools.

“We find ourselves at odds about what the adults want. We must fundamentally change that discussion,” Bennett told State Board of Education members on Wednesday.

At that meeting, state officials also said the takeover and intervention process is moving forward — despite lingering concerns about a lack of available details about the interventions that has some parents frustrated.

“This board does have the authority to act if the school district engages in actions that are adverse to the management team. That action can be including withholding funds. There is nothing off the table.”
—State superintendent Tony Bennett

Indianapolis Public Schools administrators — who have clashed with Bennett over the state’s intervention plans in the past — say they’ll “successfully compete” to enroll students in the schools the district continues to operate.

IPS superintendent Eugene White also says the district will cooperate with the school turnaround companies who will operate the four Indianapolis schools the state will take over next year. White has said IPS will also leave athletics equipment currently at takeover schools for use by the new operators.

“IPS will fully cooperate with the Lead Partners and Turnaround Operators assigned to our schools.  At the same time, we pledge to every student, parent and patron of our community that IPS will be an attractive option for every child in Marion County,” White wrote in an open letter in September.

But Indiana Department of Education officials question whether IPS administrators are being true to their word. At the board meeting, state turnaround director Jim Larson discussed areas where he and other state officials feel the district was not cooperating with the transition.

Upon hearing this, Bennett told the board:

I want to remind the board that the law is clear, this board does have the authority to act if the school district engages in actions that are adverse to the management team. That action can be including withholding funds. There is nothing off the table. This is not an issue about competition. This is about very fundamental issues we need to get around quickly and get on with the business of improving these schools.

State officials also say the intervention process is moving into a new phase.

Larson says the lead partner organizations tapped to assist — not take over — George Washington and Broad Ripple High Schools moved into “Phase II” of their transitions into the school.

This means the lead partner organizations will progress from assessing the situation at the school to beginning to interact with school employees about how turnaround plans will be implemented in the school.

Forward progress on the internal process of takeover and intervention has been paralleled, however, by growing frustrations among parents about what takeovers in the school will look like, as the Indianapolis Star wrote last month.

Another detail discussed at the meeting: How will the state know if the interventions are working?

State board members pushed Bennett and other IDOE officials to begin determining benchmarks for measuring the interventions’ success in these seven failing schools.

“As we move forward in this process, we need to define victory,” board member Michael Pettibone said.

READ ALSO: StateImpact‘s liveblog of the Indiana State Board of Education meeting.

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