Chamber recommends IPS explore selling real estate

Indianapolis Public Schools should immediately consider selling five of its major buildings and work with the IndyGo bus service to transport students, according to an operational analysis of the school district spearheaded by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber analysis, released Monday morning, also encouraged IPS to lease unused space in its buildings to other schools and community groups, among other recommendations.

The report is the product of eight months of work by a group of 60 business leaders, IPS board members, IPS executive staff and Indy Chamber staff. The group was chaired by David Lewis, the chief tax executive at Eli Lilly and Co., and Joe Slash, CEO of the Indianapolis Urban League.

IPS requested the Chamber’s help last year, as it faced a $30 million budget deficit, due to years of declining enrollment. IPS now has nearly 30,000 students, which ranks it as the second-largest school district in the state.

"IPS is in a unique position at this moment to assess our challenges and improve our ability to operate more effectively and efficiently," said IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee in a prepared statement. He added that the Chamber’s operational analysis will be used in IPS’ strategic planning process.

The buildings that IPS might be able to sell immediately are:

— The former Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on the northeast corner of Massachusetts and College avenues, which now is a bus maintenance facility
— The former Ford Assembly Building at 1325 E. Washington St., currently a storage facility
— The IPS administrative building at 120 E. Walnut St.
— School 616, known as the Key Learning Community high school, at 777 White River Parkway West Drive
— School 316, known as the Cold Spring Environmental Magnet School, at 3650 Cold Spring Road

The Chamber analysis also encouraged energy assessments on all IPS buildings and recommended creating multi-use facilities.

For example, IPS leased 19,900 square feet this year in its Gambold Preparatory Magnet High School, along West 38th Street, to the Enlace Academy charter school for $90,000 a year. The Chamber analysis estimates that IPS could bring in $4.6 million if it leased out all the unused space in its classroom buildings. The Chamber report estimated that the unused space could house more than 24,000 students.

Charter schools within IPS’ boundaries last year enrolled nearly 12,000 students. Many more charter schools have been approved to open within the IPS district in the next few years.

Ferebee has drawn both praise and criticism this year for embracing House Bill 1321, which would make it easier for IPS to lease unused space in its buildings to charter schools. The bill, which is pending in the Indiana General Assembly, has drawn fire from teachers unions because it would also allow IPS to turn schools over to private management teams that would use non-union teachers.

On transportation, the Chamber report suggested that IPS work with IndyGo, the city-run bus service, to create a special pass for IPS magnet students to use IndyGo buses to get to and from school. Magnet schools draw students from throughout the IPS district, making bus routes far more complicated than they would be for neighborhood-focused schools.

The Chamber analysis also recommended that IPS keep tighter control on its contracts with outside vendors, shift its storage operations to an actual warehouse, hire a chief educational technology officer to streamline technology planning, benchmark its financial metrics against other urban public schools, and conduct a survey of IPS employees for further ideas.

“Our team of highly skilled, dedicated business volunteers, along with IPS executive staff and board members, worked strenuously to evaluate every aspect of IPS operations to formulate strategic and sustainable recommendations that, if carried out, will put the enterprise on stronger financial footing,” said Michael Huber, CEO of the Indianapolis Chamber, in a prepared statement.

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