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IPS board president calls meeting on Teach Plus contract

October 29, 2014

The Indianapolis Public School Board has called a meeting for Wednesday to reconsider a contract it approved with Teach Plus just a week ago in a move that has some board members wondering if, and why, the board might be about to back out of the deal.

The question is fraught with political implications.

The meeting was called by school board President Annie Roof, who is embroiled in five-way battle for her seat on the board that voters will decide next Tuesday. Under the contract, IPS would pay nearly $750,000 to the national organization of Teach Plus for a teacher leadership program designed improve instruction at troubled schools and reward teachers for taking tougher assignments.

Although the contract is with Teach Plus’ national organization, its Indianapolis executive director is Caitlin Hannon, who also serves on the school board. Hannon abstained from voting on the deal last week, as it passed 3-2. Board member Michael Brown was absent. Hannon has been a leader in local efforts to push IPS toward changes that would increase school autonomy, accountability and charter school partnerships. Three well-funded challengers to incumbent board members have pushed for many of those same ideas.

Roof said the election is not the reason for the meeting. While she voted for the contract last week, she said she was troubled to learn IPS had launched the program before the board formally voted. Approximately two dozen “teacher leaders” have already begun their new assignments, which come with extra pay.

“I’m just trying to make sure everybody is comfortable with the decisions that are being made and we’re all on the same page,” Roof said. “I am not comfortable that there wasn’t a vote on the contract (before it was rolled out in the schools). There’s no election politics in this. We’re just doing our jobs.”

Board member Diane Arnold, who voted in favor of the contract, said the situation probably could have been handled better but thought it would be a mistake to reverse the vote. A no vote from Brown, who often is at odds with Hannon on the board, could make the vote a tie and put the program in jeopardy.

Arnold said she hopes the meeting is just a discussion, but thinks some of her fellow board members want to re-vote.

“There are some board members who want to rescind the board’s approval of the expenses because the concept wasn’t approved,” Arnold said. “I’m hopeful that we’ll go over the program and they’ll see where the money’s going and that Teach Plus is not getting a huge amount of this money. How do you say you support teachers if you don’t want to pay teachers for the work they’ve already been doing?”

Advocacy group Stand for Children’s executive director Justin Ohlemiller said he hopes the program, called Turnaround Teacher Teams or T3, continues. Stand For Children advocates for accountability-based changes in IPS and is financially backing three challengers seeking board seats.

“Any action that would slow down this program would be detrimental to the students in those three IPS schools,” Ohlemiller said. “The T3 program was an initiative that was rolled out specifically to improve educational outcomes. The children absolutely deserve an opportunity to receive the high-quality instruction coming from teachers and the teacher leaders that are coaching them.”

The program gives two dozen IPS teachers extra responsibilities at three of the districts most troubled schools — School 14, School 44 and School 61— and in return they receive an extra $6,000 per year. The Eli Lilly and Company Foundation has already given $1 million to IPS to support the program.

In a conflict of interest disclosure form submitted with the contract, it states that “the procurement, administration and execution of this agreement will be handled by the T3 program manager, who is overseen by national Teach Plus staff. Commissioner Hannon will not be involved in payments for this agreement.”

The meeting will occur after a 6 p.m. Wednesday private executive session meeting.

Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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