EDITORIAL: Indianapolis' new education deputy should work fast

March 24, 2012

It’s perhaps fortuitous that the superintendent of Indianapolis’ largest school system is considering other jobs just as the city brings on its first deputy mayor for education.

If Eugene White leaves Indianapolis Public Schools—maybe not so coincidentally near Jason Kloth’s April 1 move into the City-County Building—the city has an even better opportunity to signal it’s a place where reform-minded educators can thrive. Then, we hope, IPS could attract strong candidates to replace White, whose possible departure to Mobile, Ala., or Greenville, S.C., would come less than a year before the Legislature is expected to consider plans to dramatically restructure governance of the chronically underperforming system.

A landmark study released in December by The Mind Trust, the locally based education reform group, calls for dramatically downsizing the central IPS office and pushing the resources and grass-roots governance to individual schools. The recommendations also include replacing the elected IPS board with a board composed of three mayoral appointees and one each from both City-County Council caucuses.

There’s a reasonably good chance that at least some of the recommendations will become law.

The Indiana Department of Education, which helped fund The Mind Trust study, is signaling its agreement with the ideas, and considering that reform-minded Republicans are running the Legislature, the recommendations are likely to be taken seriously.

Moreover, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence has said he supports expanding school choice among public, charter and private schools, and his Democratic counterpart, John Gregg, has talked of slashing bureaucracy to help teachers innovate.

That’s why it’s so important for Ballard and Kloth to work quickly and clarify the city’s position on the recommendations in The Mind Trust study. Ballard has said little beyond supporting improvements in public education across Indianapolis, not just in IPS.

Lawmakers will likely be sympathetic to the views of Ballard, a fellow Republican, and the more time they have to parse the complex recommendations, the better the chances of well-considered legislation next year.

Kloth is charged with attracting more charter schools to the city, and he will reach out to township and private schools. He also will help Ballard navigate the controversial question of whether the mayor should control IPS. Opponents have raised legitimate questions about stripping control from voters. And why should IPS be put under the mayor’s authority but not, say, Washington Township?

Still, Kloth should find a way to move IPS, and possibly other underperforming districts, away from elected boards. Boards have lagged in pushing administrators to improve schools, and the Legislature may well take up that broader question next year, too.

Kloth has a chance to get out ahead of the governance question with solid recommendations.•


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