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Without Federal Grant Money, Turnaround Operator Could Pull Out Of Arlington

Glenda Ritz, left, answers questions about federal School Improvement Grant money at the June State Board of Education meeting. The CEO of the company running Arlington High School in Indianapolis says SIG money will be critical to a successful turnaround.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Glenda Ritz, left, answers questions about federal School Improvement Grant money at the June State Board of Education meeting. The CEO of the company running Arlington High School in Indianapolis says SIG money will be critical to a successful turnaround.

The CEO of the Indianapolis-based company now running Arlington High School says without federal money earmarked for school improvement, EdPower might not be able to continue its work at the state takeover school.

“I would have to fundraise,” Marcus Robinson told the State Board of Education Monday.

EdPower took over a struggling Arlington High School last summer from Indianapolis Public Schools. But many of the students who attended Arlington in 2011-12 opted to remain in the district, partially because of an aggressive IPS attendance campaign.

The school opened in August with around 500 students, down from a peak of 1,200 the year before. Enrollment had dropped to 421 by the end of the school year.

Still, Robinson says EdPower is on track to turn the school around by 2016, the deadline set two years ago ago when the state intervened for low test scores. But Robinson told the board without adequate funding, his group won’t be able to get the job done.

At issue is distribution of federal School Improvement Grant money, which is designated for school turnaround efforts at schools that received a D or an F from the state. That money didn’t come until mid-summer last year, but Robinson told the State Board by this time last year the Department of Education had given him an idea of how much support his organization could expect to receive.

That hasn’t happened yet this year, Robinson says. A representative from EdisonLearning, the company now in charge of Theodore Roosevelt College & Career Academy in Gary, confirmed that former superintendent Tony Bennett’s administration had provided takeover operators a funding estimate in May last year.

But Superintendent Glenda Ritz says her office is still trying to work out a discrepancy with the U.S. Department of Education over how much SIG funding Indiana will receive. She says the schools that received money in 2012-13 won’t necessary be the same schools next year.

The three companies started last school year flush with cash, but flagging enrollment has already lowered the amount of money EdPower and other turnaround operators have to run the state takeover schools. Then a judge ruled the turnaround operators couldn’t be paid for students who attended the schools in 2011-12 and have since left for other schools in Indianapolis and Gary.

That’s why EdPower needs federal SIG money to run Arlington. Robinson says the school employs mostly young, inexperienced teachers who will need professional development to successfully change the school’s culture.

Pulling out as a school turnaround operator is a possibility for EdPower, which also operates the Tindley Charter Network. The company would have to give the state 60 days notice if it wanted to leave Arlington.

Tony Walker, who represents Gary on the State Board, urged fellow board members not to think of funding as money flowing to EdPower or the other companies running the state takeover schools, but as providing the resources the schools need to succeed.

“We have jurisdiction over these schools,” says Walker. “We’re the ones that will be judged by the success or failure of this project.”

The State Board voted unanimously Monday to keep funding for the five turnaround schools from falling below the 2012-13 level, but it’s unclear where additional money might come from if not increasing enrollment. In Indiana, funding follows the student, meaning tuition support from the state is calculated after a count each September.

Follow @ellemoxley on Twitter for more coverage of the June State Board of Education meeting.

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