Operators of takeover schools worry about funding

Private companies that were hired to run five Indiana schools taken over by the state for poor performance say they might not be able to continue because of funding concerns.

The companies received federal grant money when they stepped in to run four Indianapolis schools and one in Gary. But the schools won't know until July whether they will receive School Improvement Grants again this year. Some of the grants have been delayed because of a discrepancy in the amount of funding that the Indiana Department of Education and U.S. Department of Education needed to work out, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Under their contracts with the state, the private companies can withdraw with 60 days' notice. That could mean a group that gave notice this month would sever its ties with a takeover school after the school year begins in August.

EdPower CEO Marcus Robinson said turnaround schools have more expenses and need the grant money to supplement their normal state subsidy. The federal government provides the grants, which are administered by the state.

Robinson said withdrawing from running Arlington High School is a possibility if the company doesn't receive about $1.3 million in extra aid it got last year. But he said doing so would be a "catastrophe" for the students, the community and the staff.

"We love the kids in this building. They're very much a part of our hearts, very much ingratiated in our work. But ultimately, if we can't get this grant, we can't afford to do the work," he told WRTV.

State schools superintendent Glenda Ritz said the Indiana Department of Education is working quickly to inform schools whether they will receive the grants.

Some State Board of Education members have questioned her department's commitment to the takeover schools, noting that the takeovers occurred under former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. Ritz campaigned against state takeovers.

Indianapolis' Donnan Middle School and Arlington, Manual and Howe high schools were handed over to outside operators after six straight years of F grades for low test scores.

"This is the first year out of the gate," said board member Dan Elsener, president of Marian University. "If you take a strategic priority and don't fund it, it's dereliction of duty. Those neighborhoods and these children are vulnerable. We have a commitment to come through here. It's got to be clear, got to be swift, and it's got to be certain."

The takeover schools all received SIG grants to help with the turnaround efforts last year. Robinson said EdPower was notified in May 2012 that it would receive the money, which he said was critical to operating Arlington.

But state officials said the process has been delayed by two months this year, giving schools little notice of their funding before the school year begins.

Ritz said it was impossible to notify grant recipients any sooner.

"How do you make assurances to the schools prior to the process being formally implemented?" she said.

"We are well aware of the schools that are the lowest-performing and intend to support them to be sure they are going to be functional," she said. "If anyone has any doubt about that, you needn't. I plan to do that."

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: IBJ is now using a new comment system. Your Disqus account will no longer work on the IBJ site. Instead, you can leave a comment on stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Past comments are not currently showing up on stories, but they will be added in the coming weeks. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.