The Indianapolis Public Schools board reversed course and dumped a contract with a national teacher program, which it approved just a week ago, by a 4-1 vote Wednesday night as angry board members accused each other of playing politics.
Board member Diane Arnold demanded that those who voted against the deal, which is mostly funded by philanthropic donations, explain why they wanted to cancel a deal that pays $6,000 stipends to teacher leaders at three low-rated schools who are specially trained by the not-for-profit group Teach Plus.
The program is run by Teach Plus’ national office, but its local executive director is IPS board member Caitlin Hannon, who abstained from voting. Hannon is seen as allied with candidates who are spending thousands of dollars to try to unseat three of her fellow board members, all of whom voted no Wednesday, in an election next week.
“She’s not getting compensated,” Arnold said of Hannon while criticizing the decision to back out of the deal. “That concerns me because that’s a personal vendetta that will hurt our children.”
Board member Samantha Adair-White, who has two challengers in her re-election bid, said she didn’t support the program, called Turnaround Teacher Teams or T3, because she wants an across-the-board raise for all teachers instead of stipends for a few. She took exception to being accused of voting no because of Hannon.
“Caitlin is a grown woman,” Adair-White told Arnold. “You always get on the mic and you’ve got to make this big old spiel about ‘It’s because of Caitlin.’ No, it’s not. It’s what’s right by all teachers, not just T3 teachers. We service all teachers. That’s what’s right.”
Board President Annie Roof, also being challenged for re-election, called the meeting and was the only board member to change her vote from last week. Roof said she liked the program, but was unhappy Superintendent Lewis Ferebee had launched it before the board voted yes.
“I am not going against T3,” Roof said. “When something of this magnitude falls through the cracks, it’s our responsibility to address it, fix it and move forward when we’re all comfortable with the process.”
Board member Gayle Cosby said she wished more money went toward the teachers’ stipends. Michael Brown said he’d rather see a half a percent raise for all teachers. Adair-White said she would never support the Teach Plus program.
That didn’t impress teachers from the three schools—School 14, School 44 and School 61—that were signed up for the program. They were joined by IPS teacher of the year Tina Ahlgren, who said she was dismayed by the board vote.
“I’m disappointed for the teachers who have already committed to the program,” Ahlgren said. “It’s even brought some quality teachers back to the district. It’s one thing to have never brought it here, but I’m concerned about them promising teachers something and then taking it away from them.”
Advocacy group Stand for Children’s executive director, Justin Ohlemiller, called the board’s decision “unfathomable” and driven by politics.
“I think the timing is incredibly curious,” Ohlemiller said. “The back and forth tonight was personal and political and has no place in this board room. The job of this district is to educate our children. Why would you ever vote to slow down a program that is doing exactly that, especially children in our most struggling schools?”
Board members Roof, Adair-White, Brown and Cosby voted to rescind the contract. Arnold was the lone no vote. Sam Odle was absent.
Ferebee also was absent from the meeting due to a family matter. His top organizational strategist, Le Boler, called the situation a misunderstanding.
“We’ll definitely do everything we can to resolve the matter,” Boler said. “I know there’s a willingness to employ a lead teacher. Each of (the board members) agree we need to grow our own professionals. That’s a starting point. We need to figure out if this is going to be the best approach or if we need to consider something else.”
Under the contract, IPS would have paid nearly $750,000 to Teach Plus. The Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation has already given $1 million to IPS to support the program.
Chalkbeat Indiana is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.