Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

How A District Can Lose A School To Takeover But Still Keep The Students

Jason Breeding (center), a freshman at Emmerich Manual High School, and his mother Shelly Breeding speak to a representative of Charter Schools USA, the company taking over the school in July.

The district may be losing four schools to state takeover next year, but Indianapolis Public Schools administrators are doing everything they can to make sure IPS doesn’t lose those schools’ students too.

Superintendent Eugene White says IPS is transferring all district-funded activities at the takeover schools to buildings the district still controls.

“Not only are we taking the programs, we want to take the students too,” White says, adding “We want to compete for those kids because no other school district in the state of Indiana provides as many quality educational options as IPS.”

This message doesn’t always play well with the families at takeover schools. Some parents interpret the IPS sales pitch — sometimes delivered by teachers directly to students, parents say — as unnecessary pressure for kids.

“The kids don’t need to deal with that, they need to figure out what’s going on in the classroom and not deal with all this grown-up political crap,” says Shelly Breeding. Her son Jason is a freshman at Emmerich Manual High School, which faces state takeover in July.

A Manual High School football letter from 1958. The district cut the sport in 2009 after a lack of competitive success. The school's turnaround operator, Charter Schools USA, is vowing to restart the program.

Charter Schools USA, the company operating Manual next year, will replace most district programs with its own equivalents next year. It will also offer a full slate of extracurricular activities, including football — which the district cut in 2009.

But takeover companies might not be able to replicate the district’s offerings for reasons beyond their control. For example, the hard-to-come-by military contract for the JROTC program at Manual High — which has a history almost as old as the 116-year-old school — is with IPS, not the school.

The district plans to move the JROTC program to another school next year. Manual student Jason Breeding, who’s in JROTC, says one of his teachers is urge him to follow the program to another school.

Jason, who spoke to StateImpact at an informational meeting put on by Charter Schools USA, says he was one of many students with misconceptions about the takeover process, at least at first.

“I was thinking there was going to be no sports, it was gonna be a locked up school, and there was going to be nothing going on. Then I started going to these meetings and I started learning more about [the takeover], and it’s just making me want to stay [at Manual High School] now,” said Jason.

On December 5, a group of Manual alumni sent a letter to the Indiana Board of Education, stating their concerns about the takeover process. Their letter, among other things, mentions the district’s direct encouragement of students to transfer to other IPS schools.

The letter prompted state superintendent Tony Bennett to raise the possibility of cutting the district’s funding if the takeover at Manual did not go smoothly.

“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 include withholding funds. There is nothing off the table,” Bennett said at the December 7 board meeting.

Superintendent Eugene White says the district will be cooperative, but says he resents the implication that Indianapolis Public Schools is acting inappropriately. He says the district is acting well within the law by moving programs to other schools and offering families more educational choices.

“If I decide that I have to take my programs with me, then it’s not Eugene White not playing ball, it’s other people not understanding what the law says. And I don’t think that’s my problem,” White says.

Comments

  • Louis Mahern

    “I don’t think that’s my problem,” White says. Nothing is ever his problem. The greater the pressure the more Eugene White and the IPS bureaucracy show their true colors. I am one liberal Democrat who completely supports this take over and will support what ever the State needs to do to ensure that the children of IPS are the winners in this deal.

    • http://twitter.com/StateImpactIN StateImpact Indiana

      Appreciate the comment Louis.

      Just to add a little context for the comment: State officials say the district’s removing programs from the schools isn’t what’s in the best interests of students. His argument is that it’s unrealistic to expect the district to continue to pay for these when the charter school is being paid by the state to provide these program, and if people don’t understand it, “I don’t think it’s my problem…” That was the context for the comment.

      Speaking with him on the issue was interesting. We’re going to post more on this topic in the coming days, would you find it helpful for us to post the full audio of the interview we had with him? It’s 37 minutes long…

      • ThinkKidsFirst

        The context still is not fully focused as “the district” is not funding these programs, but tax dollars are funding the programs. “The district” tried and failed to operate these schools with success, even with the programs they want to “keep”. The programs were placed at the schools for the students and regardless of what the law allows, cooperating means not pouting and taking your ball home so no one else gets to play. Please look at the kids and understand that the jockeying should be remain focused on what is best for students that attend these schools, not just what is best for “the district”. Although many may not appreciate the lack of local control due to the takeover by the state, these kids still go to school there. If the district did not need to keep the school open and could have closed it to move students to schools locations that clearly are outperforming these schools, then it should have been done on their watch, not after they get caught neglecting student populations and dismissing these school locations as clearly low priority locations. Not at all what is best for these kids to know they were dismissed out of hand for years.

        • http://twitter.com/StateImpactIN StateImpact Indiana

          Hi ThinkKidsFirst, thanks for your comment.

          From my conversations with Superintendent White and IPS officials, I think they’d respond to your point this way: ‘We don’t control these schools anymore, but we still serve 20,000-30,000 students at other schools we do control. We owe it to those students to make sure programs we’ve made available to IPS students in the past continue to be offered to IPS students. We feel these are good programs — and giving kids good programs is “what’s best for kids.”‘

          On the other hand, even though these schools face takeover right now, they could theoretically become IPS schools once again in a few years. I asked White whether the law doesn’t imply that IPS should have a continuing interest in the success or failure of the kids in this school — essentially, whether they need to continue to worry about “what’s best for kids” at Manual even while they don’t control the school — because they might end up controlling the school in the future.

          White response led me to believe IPS doesn’t see the likelihood that they’ll have control of these schools after they emerge from takeover. In that light, IPS doesn’t see it as realistic for the state to ask the district to continue to fund programs at the school.

          Hope that helps you understand further how the issue breaks down, ThinkKidsFirst. ~kyle

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