Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Indianapolis Public Schools must rebuild trust

June 14, 2014

If any local organization needs the public’s trust, it’s Indianapolis Public Schools, considering the challenges the district faces educating often-disadvantaged students.

But IPS broke that crucial tie to the community. Two outside audits just released show the district for years hoarded a cash reserve even as it warned of crippling shortfalls. In 2013, the district projected a $30 million deficit but ended with a 3.5-percent surplus in its $237.8 million general fund.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of trust. Without it, people are reluctant to enter into productive relationships, and in the case of IPS, citizens are now left to question whether past district officials understood basic accounting.

Fortunately, there is a new sheriff in town, Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and new deputies under him. The fact that he went public with the discrepancy in March is encouraging. The board, which received an infusion of new blood during the 2012 elections, also deserves credit for having the courage to call in the external reviews.

But the episode is still a big setback for the district, one taxpayers are sure to remember for years. The only way to restore the lost confidence is through greater transparency. The district’s confusing finances should be reordered into a presentation outsiders can understand, and then made easy to find and parse. Ferebee and the board also should emphasize the district is under new management.

Trust can, and must, be restored. Everyone involved should remember that the district has precious children to educate.

California tremblor

Hoosier education reformers should feel vindicated by a California court decision June 10 blowing to smithereens that state’s laws dictating how schoolteachers are hired and fired.

Los Angeles Court Judge Rolf Treu tossed California’s tenure system, saying it hurts poor kids most by protecting bad teachers and keeping good ones away.

The decision has been stayed pending appeal, but it will embolden reformers throughout the country to file their own lawsuits on behalf of children stuck with incompetent or burned-out teachers.

Indiana was out ahead in 2011 when lawmakers and former Gov. Mitch Daniels dramatically tempered seniority-based contracts as part of the sweeping education reforms they passed.

The California decision suggests the reforms are becoming a national standard, but the decision also puts Indiana on notice that the rest of the country is catching up. This is no time to rest on laurels.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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