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Ballard to ask for control of IPS schools facing state takeover

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard said Wednesday morning he will petition the State Board of Education for control of the seven Indianapolis Public Schools subject to state takeover later this year.

Ballard also reiterated his opposition to mayoral control over all of IPS, which some local leaders have pushed for recently. He called that idea “premature.”

“I believe our immediate focus should be on the successful turnaround of the schools being taken over by the state,” Ballard told a meeting of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee on Wednesday morning, according to a transcript of his remarks. “Once we successfully turn around these schools, then we can tackle the larger issue of IPS as a whole.”

The seven IPS schools that could face a takeover by the Indiana Department of Education are Arlington Community High School, Broad Ripple High School, Emerich Manual High School, Northwest High School, Thomas Carr Howe Community High School, George Washington Community School, and Emma Donnan Middle School.

They are subject to state takeover if their students’ ISTEP pass rates are in the lowest category for a sixth straight year. The sixth year of results will be released in July or August.

Statewide, 18 schools are at risk. Officials are holding public meetings this summer in cities where the schools are located to discuss options, including merging problem schools with other schools or turning them over to a private company. The state Board of Education likely will meet in August to decide what happens next.

Ballard, whose office already oversees 23 charter schools, wants to transition the IPS schools to a “charter-like model,” he said.

Charter schools receive state funding based on their enrollment. However, instead of being operated by a governmental agency with its own taxing authority, charters are operated by private entities.

Ballard’s office holds the power to revoke charters if it deems their performance to be sub-par.

“In our charter model, individual schools are free of much of the unnecessary bureaucracy of centralized school administrations,” Ballard said Wednesday morning. He added, “We have a compliance and accountability model. We set high standards and we hold the charter schools accountable to these standards.”

Ballard, who is up for re-election in November, said he will work “for the remainder of this year” to craft a detailed plan to bring before the state Board of Education.

Melina Kennedy, the Democrat challenging Ballard in the election, called the mayor’s plan “a very narrow proposal that comes a bit late.”

She said the schools won’t be fixed by simply converting them to charters. The specific plans for each charter, such as what the school’s mission is and who sits on the board, will determine whether the school is effective, she said.

“Charter schools won’t succeed unless they have outstanding plans of action,” said Kennedy, a former deputy mayor under Bart Peterson.

Kennedy, who has been meeting with parents, teachers and superintendents to get input for an education plan she plans to release in coming months, also said Ballard’s focus on seven schools fails to address the need for broader reform at IPS—including the possibility of mayoral control.

Currently, IPS is overseen by an elected school board that is independent of the Indianapolis mayor’s office and has its own taxing authority. Also, schools in the outlying townships of Marion County—such as Pike, Lawrence, Warren and Washington—operate independently of both IPS and the mayor’s office.

State intervention in public schools is unprecedented in Indiana. But it was authorized by a 1999 law, which created six school performance categories based on pass rates on the state-standardized ISTEP test.

The law stipulated that schools scoring in the lowest category for six straight years could be taken over by the state Board of Education in order to improve performance. If that happens, the state board will assign a management team to improve each school’s performance and then check its progress every 30 to 90 days. These teams could be made up of existing school leaders or outsiders hired on contract by the state.

Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, admits that the 2011-’12 school years will be transitional, as the turnaround management teams figure out their specific action plans.

Ballard’s proposal is to talk with those teams, as well as community members and officials from IPS and the state Board of Education, to help formulate the best plan for each school. His staff then would use those plans to make a detailed petition to the state Board of Education next year, with the idea that the mayor's office would oversee implementation.

Bennett spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said the superintendent's office couldn't endorse Ballard’s proposal, “But we’re certainly not going to knock him for coming to the table with some ideas.”

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  • Charter schools are not performing better
    This story would have provided better information if it had posted the performance of charter schools, which have some of the lowest scores in the state. Show me some success numbers with charter schools and I'll feel better about state takeovers of public schools.

    Again, what we need are smaller public schools so students can get individual attention and discipline problems can decline. Instead, what we continue to do is stuff large numbers of at-risk students into crowded schools and large classrooms. This model isn't successful. Let's change that. Put money into public education and create smaller schools.

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