If the Indianapolis Public Schools board approves a plan to close three high schools, students won’t be the only ones facing transition: Hundreds of teachers will need to find new positions.
Just what will happen to those educators remains uncertain. District leaders say most teaching positions will be moved, not cut. But educators have raised concerns that the process for reassigning teachers is murky and that the prospect of school closings will push teachers to flee.
A proposal from Superintendent Lewis Ferebee released last month calls for closing Broad Ripple High School and John Marshall Middle School, and converting Arlington and Northwest High Schools to middle schools. Those four schools combined had 329 certified teachers in 2015-2016, the latest year available in the state performance report.
The district would also roll out a new career academy model, where students choose their high schools based on focus areas in fields such as business, construction and medical science.
All that transition means a lot of changes are in store for the hundreds of educators who work at the schools slated to close—and those at the high schools that will launch career academies and take the influx of new students.
For now, the district is not providing much information on what is in store for teachers. The details are expected to come after the IPS board votes on which schools to close in September. Eleven days after the board votes, central office staff are scheduled to visit the high schools to discuss the timeline, next steps and personnel decisions.
But Ferebee said it will be even longer before the district has a full picture of how many teachers are needed at the career academies in each school because it depends on where students choose to enroll.
“Much of what we do with certified staff will be driven by enrollment interest of students,” he said.
By closing schools, the district expects to save $4.35 million in “classroom resources,” or expenses from the general fund, according to the report recommending closing high schools. The general fund is typically used to pay for costs including salaries for teachers and other school workers, equipment like computers and supplies needed to run the schools.
The administration does not expect it would save much from shrinking the teaching force, because they anticipate that the number of teachers will stay relatively stable, said deputy superintendent Wanda Legrand. “Our student enrollment will stay about the same.”
IPS union president Rhondalyn Cornett, who leads the Indianapolis Education Association, said that she also expects the number of teachers to remain steady—as long as students don’t start leaving the district for charter and township schools.
The career academies may also lead to more jobs for teachers with new skills and credentials, but it’s not entirely clear how that will play out. Some teachers may already be qualified to teach in the new programs and others may be able to get the extra credentials relatively easily.
Even if the district maintains the same number of students and teachers in its high schools, however, the transition is hard for teachers at the schools that are expected to close, Cornett said.
“They are afraid. They don’t understand how this process works,” she said. “They don’t know what the future holds.”
Cornett said that the district should make the closing process easier for educators by being clear about how they can get jobs at other schools and giving teachers who lost their jobs because of school closings priority for open positions.
Tina Ahlgren, the 2014 IPS Teacher of the Year, spoke to the board in June about the urgent need to make the process transparent for teachers. Ahlgren has been through this before. She lost jobs at two prior schools after one school was taken over by the state and a magnet program at another school was abruptly moved.
“During each of these transitions, I watched dozens of loyal, effective, IPS educators leave the district due to the chaos that ensued and the broken promises from this district,” she said. “I speak here today to remind you of those challenges in the hopes that we will learn from our past and not repeat those mistakes this time around.”
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