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State will have its say in IPS plan to close high schools

July 11, 2017

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders have a plan to close high schools, but some decisions are beyond their control. It is state officials who will ultimately determine the fate of several district high schools.

Five schools that would be affected by the district’s high school closing and reconfiguration plan are under state oversight, so the Indiana State Board of Education has the final say over changes. It’s unlikely they would dramatically alter the district’s proposal for 2018-2019, but looking ahead, the state board will decide the future of at least two schools.

Here is some background on where schools stand and what decisions the state board must make.

What happens next?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee released his recommendation late last month, and the board is expected to vote in September. Meetings will be held at each school recommended for closure in July and August.

Once the IPS board approves a final plan, the state board will review it at their meeting in October, state board spokesman Josh Gillespie wrote in an email.

“As this is a local issue,” he wrote, “we want to see what action the IPS Board takes.”

What schools are overseen by the state?

Ferebee’s proposal calls for closing Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School and converting Northwest and Arlington high schools to middle schools. The district is free to make any changes it wants at Broad Ripple and Northwest. But the other two schools are overseen by the state, and the district can’t make changes without its permission.

After years of failing grades from the state, Arlington was taken over by the state five years ago, and only returned to district control in 2015. Marshall is getting extra outside help through a milder form of intervention.

George Washington High School, which is expected to stay open as a magnet school, is also in state intervention, and the district will probably need permission to make significant changes.

The district also includes three schools that are no longer managed by IPS. At the same time that the state took over Arlington, it took over two other IPS high schools—Howe and Manual—that are still managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit operator from Florida. The company also manages Emma Donnan Middle School, which is not part of the high school plan.

What could happen to those schools?

The IPS high school plan calls for converting Arlington to a middle school. Marshall, which will open as a middle school this fall, would close and the students would instead attend the newly created Arlington middle school.

Both campuses are on the northeast side, but Arlington is in better condition and features amenities like a planetarium, which may be why the administration recommended keeping that building open. Arlington is now managed by IPS, but both Marshall and Arlington are still subject to state oversight, and the state board would need to approve the closures.

George Washington is expected to continue serving grades 9-12. But under the district proposal it would convert from a neighborhood school to a magnet school serving students from across the district. Because George Washington is in state intervention, the state board would likely need to approve the changes.

Finally, there are two takeover schools. IPS has no control over Howe and Manual high schools, which are managed by CSUSA. The contracts for managing those schools run until the end of this year, and it’s unclear what the state board will do when it comes time to renew them. Both schools are getting failing grades from the state, but despite those low marks, they have won support from board members in the past.

If the state board decides to end their contract with CSUSA and return Howe and Manual to IPS control, Ferebee’s high school proposal lays out a potential plan for the schools: Close their doors and send their students to new magnet programs at the remaining high schools.

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