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Ballard moves to shut down The Project School

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It looks like there will be no back to school at The Project School, a charter school just northeast of downtown.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced Tuesday evening that he intends to revoke the charter that gives The Project School the authority to operate. Ballard cited poor test scores and “recently discovered financial problems.”

The four-year-old school, which is publicly funded, has never seen more than 30 percent of its students pass both the math and reading portions of the state standardized ISTEP test.

This year, the passage rate for the school’s 311 students in grades K-8 was 28.9 percent, according to data released this month by the Indiana Department of Education.

"The Project School ranks among the worst performing schools in Marion County and in the entire state," Ballard said in a prepared statement. He added that The Project School’s 2012 academic results likely would produce an "F" grade under the state's new accountability standards.

A message seeking comment from Tarrey Banks, the leader of The Project School, was not returned. The Project School has 15 days to respond to Ballard's decision before it becomes final.

A notice of revocation sent to The Project School paints an ugly picture of the school's finances. It claims the school has run a deficit in each of the last three years and now has nearly $5.3 million in debt. The notice also states that The Project School delayed paying its staff this month by one week because it had so little cash on hand.

The notice of revocation also cited a report by the Indiana State Board of Accounts, which found that The Project School had improperly used more than $63,500 in federal facilities and planning grant money to pay salaries and operational expenses.

Jason Kloth, who is Ballard's deputy mayor for education, said the mayor's staff became concerned about the school's finances last week and requested additional information. The school provided that information on Monday, which prompted the decision to revoke the charter.

"We just felt like this was a decision we had to make," Kloth said, referring to The Project School's academic and financial performance. He added, "This was a really difficult decision because it means we'll have to work to place the students in the next three weeks."

Indeed, Ballard’s decision comes less than a month before the new school year begins, and will cause The Project School’s students to scramble to find a new school. So to help those students find new homes, Ballard tapped his former communications chief Robert Vane, as well as Angela Smith-Jones, the director of public policy at the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, to be trustees overseeing the school.

Vane, Smith-Jones and Ballard’s charter school staff will host a school enrollment fair for students and parents at 6 p.m. on July 26, at Overcoming Church, located at 2203 N. Columbia Ave.

 Kloth said the mayor's staff has already identified schools within Indianapolis Public Schools, other charter schools, as well schools run by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that have spaces available for The Project School students.

In early May, David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform group, called for the closure of The Project School, as well as three others. Harris was the city’s first director of charter schools under previous Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson.

Harris’ comments sparked an angry backlash from parents and educators connected with The Project School.

Mike Higbee, a board member of The Project School, called Harris’ comments a “verbal grenade” that did not acknowledge that most students at The Project School have been there only one or two years, and that students who have been there three and four years show remarkable progress on the ISTEP test.

“The school has much work to do,” Higbee wrote in a letter to IBJ.  “The statistics above demonstrate that the majority of students are new to the school. The school’s impact must be measured over three to four years, not after the first year or two.”

Ballard has closed down one other charter school, Stonegate Early College High School. He also decided not to renew the charter of Fountain Square Academy, but that school has since won approval for a new charter from Ball State University.

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  • Also uninformed parent
    I second what Lee said about being uninformed. My duaghter, going into 1st grade, learned from the news her school was closed. WE do not live in center township and pulled our daughter from a private school to send her out of district to TPS. Now, the only in-district elementary we would choose is a year-round school on a lottery admissions system that is full. I am literally afraid to send her to our assigned district school...my daughter struggles to find her place socially in a small QUIET classroom...
  • Poor Leadership
    I believe the Mayor made the right decision with the closing of The Project School. This school had so many things wrong with it, from the poor leadership skills to the clueless teachers. I feel sorry for the parents and students, its an injustice that they did not receive a quality education during The Project Schools operation. Perhaps now the money can go to where its really needed.
  • Wondering
    How can a school be $5.4 Million in debt when there are only 311 students? Mismanagement and wasted money; it's killing the public schools.
  • Are Acts of Democracy Intolerable?
    "The Opt-Out movement could jeopardize those teachers and their schools..It's a very real threat for the (Project) School leader." This from a Fox 59 news piece that aired on May 22nd, reporting that 29 students had refused to submit to the ISTEP test. After reading today that the Project School is having their charter revoked, it seems the warning was prescient. In the video, Project School leader Tarrey Banks declared, " (Opting Out) was an active of passive protest, it was an act of democracy, and I certainly wasn't going to impede that." I am certainly left to wonder if there is any room for acts of democracy in any of our schools.
  • When it comes to education....
    When it comes to education, no one can foul it up as quickly or effectively as Mayor Ballard.
  • Dr. Straub cause he is a Doctor
    All the school needs is Herr Docktor Straub he keeps good finances and is a "doctor". He can fix it like he did IMPD. And besides Ballard "believes" in him and provided him great oversight. If Ballard can be Mayor anyone can. Why don't they man up to the facts as to the challenges at that school. Where was Ballard when all the financial defalcations were occurring ? There are land mines all around Ballard he mismanages everything around him. The CIB BY TOSSING MONEY AT THEM IDI AND ICVA, and SB2012,LLC where there was no transparency... complete scam on taxpayers.
  • Ballard has no Credibility
    I guess Tarrey Banks did not contribute to Mayor Ballard's campaign or pay a tribute. Quite bemusing that Ballard pulls the plug and he will give the Charter to one of his cronies. Can Ballard tell the citizens where all the money was blown with PUBLIC SAFETY? Ballard has no street cred. He is the most incompetent boob this city has ever seen.
  • Students are not to blame
    I think your comments reflect stereotypes of city kids and their families more than they do whats really going on with students. Its a schools' job to educate kids and when they don't do that, its the schools failure, not the kids. If thats the logic we're going to employ, then we don't need educational reform at all, public school system underperformance is all about the students. Of course, nobody thinks that, we're busy pushing for public school improvement. Its on schools to educate the kid. Its on us to create the kind of schools that will meet the needs of our students. Thats what charter schools are about and when they don't perform, we close them and let a better one take their place. That accountability is the key difference between traditional public school systems and public charters systems.
  • Government Failure
    I feel saddened by a few things in this instance. 1st they did not inform the parents in enough time for them to choice their child to a school of their choosing (which you had to do in April). 2nd they built this school only 4 years ago with tax payers money only to shut it down (waste of tax dollars) and last but not least... Why did not someone investigate why the test scores are low? I am sorry but test scores is all people care about anymore but honestly they mean nothing.
  • Look More Closely
    Before commenting, please indicate whether you have visited the school to see what learning is actually happening there. There is far more to The Project School than test scores. My daughter has attended the school for three years. She is eagerly awaiting her fourth grade year. She is a hard working child with several learning challenges. Thanks to the teachers at the school, she is now reading on grade level, and just as importantly, loves school and loves to read. That describes many of the children at the school, and is one reason that many of their parents brought them to the school. These are the children that other schools don't want, because they will lower their scores. The school has taken them with open arms, unlike some of the other charter schools and some of the township schools taking out of district transfers. It has also welcomed many children who were expelled from IPS, and nurtured them to regular attendance and participation in a school community. This is a political decision, with disastrous consequences for my child.
  • Parent not informed
    As a parent of 3 current Project School students and one graduate I was not informed of the Mayor's decision to close the school. I learned this information from the mayor's press release. This is unacceptable. I now have 2 weeks to find a school for my 3 children. Mayor Ballard claims to be an advocate of school choice but he has effectively removed my ability to choose a school that I believe will be the best for my children .
    • Education Failure
      I believe the mayor is doing the right thing. However, bad attitudes at home regarding learning and bettering oneself through education make succeeding an uphill battle. We can bring students to the pool of education, but we cannot make them drink. Learning has to come from inside a student. Wish we knew how to change student attitudes about learning, turn off that silly TV with R-rated movies and care more about the future would be a start.

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      2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

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      5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim

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