Judge backs mayor’s decision to revoke school’s charter

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The Project School in Indianapolis has lost a court battle to remain open after a judge denied an injunction challenging Mayor Greg Ballard's decision to revoke the school’s charter.

Ballard announced July 17 that he planned to close the school due to poor test scores and financial issues, but school officials fought the decision in a formal response three days later and filed for an injunction in federal court to stop the revocation.

On Tuesday, Judge Sarah Evans Barker denied the school’s motion for an injunction, meaning the school at 1145 E. 22nd St. will not open as scheduled on Monday.

“Faced with such dismal results respecting [the school’s] academic and financial health, Mayor Ballard’s decision was factually reasonable and legally permissible,” the judge wrote in her decision. “His revocation of [the school’s] charter was justified not only by concrete facts, but also by statutory law, which clearly afforded him discretion in the matter.”

The 4-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 in July 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 July 17 in a prepared statement. He added that the school’s 2012 academic results likely would produce an “F” grade under the state’s new accountability standards.

Regarding the school’s financial health, Judge Barker cited in her order that the school had overdrawn its general fund by nearly $225,000 as of June 2010, regularly used restricted funds to pay salaries, failed to submit timely financial data to the mayor’s office, failed to maintain a balanced budget between 2009 and 2012, and regularly used its revolving line of credit to pay expenses.

In a prepared statement, parents of the school expressed their disappointment in the judge’s decision.

“It’s difficult to put into words how sad we are that it has come to this,” said Sherice Ezell, parent of a fifth grader. “As we said from the beginning, nearly every Project School parent has been satisfied with the quality of education at our school. The leadership, teachers and staff have been outstanding.”

Supporters said the school deserved more time time to prove itself because it works with some of the city's most disadvantaged and challenging students.

“Decision-makers have ignored the fact that 100 percent of the 4th and 8th graders who have been here for at least three years passed both parts of the ISTEP last year,” said parent Rachel Maxwell in a prepared statement.  “That proves TPS is getting the job done, when children have spent some time in the program.”

School officials said they are continuing to explore their legal options and possibilities for new charter sponsors.

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