Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

State Cancels 2 Schools Planned By Charter Schools USA

Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, center, celebrates an academic recognition for Bonita Springs Charter School in Bonita Springs, Fla. in February 2017. (Credit: Charter Schools USA)

Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, center, celebrates an academic recognition for Bonita Springs Charter School in Bonita Springs, Fla. in February 2017. (Credit: Charter Schools USA)

A state board that authorizes charter schools voted Monday to cancel plans for a group of Indianapolis business professionals to open schools in Marion and Clark counties.

The reason?

Florida-based Charter Schools USA, the would-be manager, had ceased communicating with the Indiana Charter School Board for nearly a year and missed a required deadline to identify a facility for one of the schools, according to board staff.

“Because of the inability to either meet the deadline and/or even give a reason for not meeting the deadline or trying to postpone the deadline we recommend the charters be revoked,” said James Betley, the board’s executive director, during a public meeting.

The board agreed and voted 5-0 to cancel the charters.

A non-profit Indianapolis group calling itself the Indiana Charter Network partnered with the for-profit Charter Schools USA to open a K-8 college prep school in southern Marion County and another in Clark County.

Charter Schools USA is a management company that operates schools in Indiana and seven other states. It currently operates three of Indianapolis Public Schools’ former middle and high schools as part of a state-run turnaround effort and operates a K-6 school under a special contract with IPS. The company’s leadership has often talked about wanting to expand its Indiana footprint.

In May 2015 the Indiana Charter School Board granted the Indiana Charter Network two charters despite reservations from some then-board members. Charter Schools USA had already been part of a failed attempt to open schools authorized by the board in 2012, Betley said.

Because of those concerns, the board would allow one school to open in 2016-17 and the other to open after “positive performance of the first school on academic, financial, and compliance indicators,” according to meeting minutes.

Charter Schools USA planned to open two K-8 schools: The first in the “vertex of Perry Township, Johnson County, and the future path of I-69 into Indianapolis” and the second school in “Clarksville, Jeffersonville, and greater Clark County and east New Albany.”

But in December 2015 the group requested a two-year extension to open the first school in 2017-18. Indiana Charter Network members had hoped the General Assembly would increase funding for charter schools that year but changes in the 2015-17 state budget “were not as impactful as originally anticipated,” the group said.

As part of the extension approved in February 2016, Indiana Charter Network/Charter Schools USA were required to identify a location for the first school by Feb. 1, 2017, and work with board staff on other requirements.

But neither group communicated again with the state board between February 2016 and January 2017. After that Betley said he found out his contact with Charter Schools USA was no longer at the company and a new company representative told him “we’ll get back to you” but did not.

When asked by a board member if anyone had yet been in touch with Betley about Monday’s planned vote to revoke the charters — “No,” he answered.

The Indiana Charter Network’s 2015 application lists a six-member “founding group” and board, including President Jim Owen, a financial reporting manager with Simon Property Group, and Vice President Christopher Bird, head of medical and scientific affairs at Roche.

The application states the founding group is “highly qualified to provide ongoing leadership and governance to the network.”

Owen and Bird did not respond to requests for comment Monday. A Charter Schools USA spokesperson was unable to immediately comment by Monday evening.

In 2011 Charter Schools USA was picked by the State Board of Education to turn around three long-failing Indianapolis Public Schools: Emmerich Manual and Thomas Carr Howe high schools and Emma Donnan Middle School.

In 2014, the company was granted extensions that basically guarantees it will have control of Manual and Howe through 2018 and Emma Donnan through 2020.

In 2015 IPS contracted Charter Schools USA to open a K-6 elementary school that would feed into Emma Donnan middle school. But the IPS board has been critical of the academic improvements at the new school.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

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