IPS delays vote on $400M operating referendum amid criticism from charters, biz group

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The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners on Saturday agreed to delay a vote on a $400 million operating referendum to support the district’s Rebuilding Stronger plan.

The decision, made during the board’s Winter Board Retreat, comes amid criticism over the plan, including how much funding affiliated charter schools would receive if it was approved.

However, IPS said it will move forward with its $410 million capital referendum, which has already been approved for the May 2 ballot. The measure would support facility renovations throughout the district.

The proposed operating referendum would provide $50 million annually over an eight-year period to expand student programs and increase teacher pay through the program.

Earlier this month, the district said it would share $9.7 million in revenue from the referendum annually with 18 charter schools in its Innovation Network per year, up from $6.4 million in the district’s original proposal, Chalkbeat Indiana reported.

However, charter school advocates said the updated plan still fell short of providing equitable funding for schools.

On Friday, Indy Chamber said it would not support the referendum being placed on the May ballot.

“We believe that more time and engagement are required to allow the community to fully vet the current proposal, build support for a path forward, and work with state lawmakers to address inequities in the school funding formula that disadvantage IPS and many other schools across the state,” the chamber said in a written statement. “The Indy Chamber looks forward to assisting district leaders in this work and remains committed to the success of IPS and its students.”

In a lengthy statement posted to the IPS website on Saturday, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson criticized individuals and organizations in the community she said “are incentivized by cultivating dissension to position one group of people against another. Who are incentivized by schools failing kids—because it helps to prove their point—be it a charter school that closes in January or a district school that is restarted.”

She said now is the time to have hard conversations.

“If this referendum is to be delayed, then my hope is that there is an outcome that can come from it that will be even better for our students,” she wrote. “If we believe that all the children belong to all of us, then let’s talk about how all children win and be clear about who is responsible. And let’s talk about what everyone, public schools of all types, may need to sacrifice to accomplish that goal of our children winning so that taxpayers aren’t asked to bear the burden of supporting what is currently two different systems in our center city. “

Click here to read the full statement from Superintendent Johnson.

Brandon Brown, CEO of Indianapolis-based education not-for-profit The Mind Trust, issued a statement following the decision to delay the vote on the operating referendum. The Mind Trust is a local education reform group that has worked to launch charter schools and Innovation Schools, which are charters that are part of the IPS network.

“We applaud IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson, board President Venita Moore and the Board of School Commissioners for listening to families, educators and community members who have voiced concerns about the proposed operating referendum,” Brown said. “This pause will allow for additional time to build a coalition that supports fair funding for all public school students within IPS boundaries. The Mind Trust is proud to be a long-time partner with IPS, and we stand ready to support the district in developing a solution that can win broad community support.”

Justin Ohlemiller, executive director of Stand for Children, a branch of the national K-12 parent advocacy not-for-profit based in Oregon, issued a statement saying the “move today by IPS leaders will allow the tough but critical community conversations to happen to get this plan right.”

But Ohlemiller, whose group opposed the referendum as introduced, also said, “Dr. Johnson’s comments this morning were on point: We have a complex education system that doesn’t always prioritize the best interests of children, and we have to come together to address the myriad challenges.”

When the IPS board approved thee Rebuilding Stronger plan in November, the district said the median homeowner in its boundaries would see an overall property tax increase of $6 per month if the referendums passed.

However, even if the operating referendum is ultimately approved for the May ballot, efforts at the Indiana Statehouse could delay both referendums even further.

IBJ’s Peter Blanchard reported last week House Republicans are considering legislation to push local referendums to the fall election amid uncertainty over property tax bill increases in the current economic environment.

“We’re exploring options to make sure people don’t move forward with spring referendums in a world where there’s this much uncertainty,” House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said.

IPS has until Feb. 17 to certify the operating referendum to put it on the May ballot.

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13 thoughts on “IPS delays vote on $400M operating referendum amid criticism from charters, biz group

  1. If charter schools want “equitable” dollars from the funding raised by the IPS referendum, that would amount to a 500-percent increase over what has been proposed. The IPS referendum would therefore have to haul in more than $800 million, splitting the money 50-50 over eight years. So would the Chamber support such an increase?

    That is doubtful. Better that IPS keep 100-percent of the $400 million of the referendum funding (assuming it passes) and let the charters fend for themselves. Because they do not have to abide by the same rules and restrictions as IPS, the charters have not earned the right to public funding, equitable or not.

    1. Does the reference to “rules and restrictions” include the pernicious effects of the Teacher’s Union (IEA and NEA)?

      And since the U.S. Congress chooses to exempt itself from having to “abide by the same rules and restrictions” they have voted into existence for the Executive branch as well as private industries, does that mean they “have not earned the right to public funding”?

    2. Can you please explain all the terrible effects of the teachers unions?

      Also, a reminder, I’ve long advocated for killing the teachers unions. Double the pay of teachers and I am pretty sure the union will wilt away, along with all the issues we have with finding teachers.

      “But it’s the fault of the school districts!”

      Stop it. The Indiana Legislature is quite prescriptive when they feel like it. They could quite easily dedicate more money to teacher salaries and teacher salaries alone.

      The current thinking of our legislative leaders is that any old person can execute a lesson plan and anyone can teach. That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and I am not hearing it from anyone who had to try to step in and help their kids during the spring of 2020 when schools shut down.

      We have cut the funding towards education for decades now and the the results have, predictably, also gone downhill. Throwing more money at religious and charter schools, which have little accountability and don’t get any better results.

      Sure, we have school choice. We’ve made the choice to kill our schools.

    3. Joe B.

      Unless what I have heard and read is wrong, school funding has went up
      annually every year. Maybe not increasing at the same rate, but increasing.
      But still increasing over the annual rate of inflation.

      I’m not necessarily a fan of charter, but I do support the religious schools.
      Especially the Catholic schools. They’ve offered an alternative opportunity
      to students that would otherwise be stuck in a failing school and failing school

      Charter schools really don’t perform any better from what I have read and heard.
      They also can send unruly students, emotionally handicapped, and learning
      disabled back to IPS after collecting the funding for those students.
      Charter schools should be held to the same standards.

      But we have a real problem right now with under performing schools.
      Just throwing more money at the problem is probably not the solution.

    4. Joe B – two of the worst aspects of the what the teacher’s union has wrought are (1) fighting the termination of teachers who SHOULD be terminated for cause, and (2) over the years advocating fewer teaching days in a school year and fewer hours in a school day. Regarding the latter, the reason school is delayed rather than cancelled on a “snow day” is that a partial day counts as a full day of school. If school was cancelled for the entire day, it has to be made up to meet the minimum number of school days in a school year (unless the school planned school year has enough extra days built into the schedule).

      And then the ultimate – a canned “E learning day” lesson counts as a “regular” day of school. Since the lessons have to be ready on short notice (unpredictable weather), they aren’t sequenced as part of any lesson plans – just “make work” assignment to be able to claim learning was held.

    5. The number might have gone up but it’s not keeping up with inflation.


      We cut schools in the 2008 recession and never restored the funding. We’ve introduced additional users of that source of money … on top of that.

      Religious schools were just fine before charters and would remain just fine. I attended them myself. But I cannot support the concept that “the dollars follow the kid”, the attached idea that charter and religious schools should be allowed reduced accountability and allowed to discriminate as to who they educate, nor the idea that taxpayer dollars can be used to teach religious values, even values I agree with.

      If you wouldn’t be OK with it going to a Muslim sharia school that teaches women should remain covered and refuses to educate girls to the same level as boys, then you have to understand why others aren’t OK with Christian religious schools using tax dollars to teach what’s in a Bob Jones or Abeka textbook…or, as I experienced, a private Christian school that treated high achieving boys differently than high achieving girls.

      The same people who get fired up about CRT (which isn’t taught in K12) are strangely silent when Christian schools teach that slavery was “black immigration” or that Nelson Mandela introduced “radical affirmative action” into South Africa.

      Most of the problems in the education system IMO come from home situations in which education isn’t valued or able to be supported by parents. Overcoming that takes money …or, if you don’t want to spend that money, maybe a re-evaluation of policies like banning abortion and forcing the very people likely to have kids that will take extra money to educate … to have kids.

    6. Joe B.

      More abortions could be the answer to better public school education???
      Not hardly. Otherwise that problem would have been already solved.

      Just throwing money at the problem isn’t working either.
      Agreed that poor performing schools are do to home life issues and problems.
      Poor performing schools can result from a very poor learning environments
      Manual H.S. About 25 years ago was an utter disaster. Four year high school
      graduation rates were an abysmal 19% for boys ( both black and white )
      only slightly higher for the girls.
      Students were scared to go to school. The school had a lot of violence.
      Fear caused many students to drop out or transfer out by
      any means possible.
      Teachers were tired and beaten down also.

      My point is this, a good learning environment is important regardless
      of the funding. That’s the appeal of the religious schools. A good learning
      environment where nonsense is not tolerated. Even many teachers send
      their children to private schools.

      Charter schools, I’m not a fan of for the reasons that I stated above.

      But just to throw more money out is not working.

    7. LD:

      By that logic, all unions – even the police union – is a danger.

      Don’t worry about e-learning… the Legislature fixed that. Of course, they allowed virtual charter schools like the one that enrolled dead kids and stole $86 million to persist.

      If IPS stole $86.00 they’d file HB1001 to go after them. Legislators this session discussed handing homeschool parents multiple thousands of dollars with not near enough accountability… and the teachers union is what worries you?

      What we are watching is a state committed to rewarding political contributors from out of state charter advocates like the Waltons and Kochs…. apparently so we continue to crank out people only qualified to work their low wage jobs.

      We clearly need more college graduates to power our economy and we are worried about producing truck drivers.

      History will not be kind to Bob Behning.

    8. We aren’t throwing more money at it. We are throwing less. You are misinformed.

      Our taxes keep going down and so do our prospects.

      I went to religious schools. Ever read the parable of the talents? We are the servant who buried the money in a hole because we were afraid. It went poorly for that guy and it will for us too.

    9. I mean, it’s great that Eric Holcomb proposed a 6% increase for education…

      … inflation is 7%. That means, for all intents and purposes, it’s a cut.

  2. The money should follow the child. What part of take my money but don’t educate my child is fair?
    Charter schools need more accountability and oversight. Too many of them aren’t anywhere close to meeting educational standards. Unacceptable.
    The legislature needs to change to law that requires schools to sell buildings to charters for $1. That is ridiculous for any school system. Charter schools should be able to rent space in some of those buildings at a reasonable rate if they are usable.

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