I struggled with this one, truly I did. But, as they say, better late than never. Voting is upon us, and a hefty monetary request from IPS is on the ballot. I hope you weigh this vote very carefully.
I had an internal struggle with my position on the referendum because my son is an IPS student, and as a parent, of course I want him to have all of the resources and potential benefits that a $272 million influx of cash can bring to the district ($220 million is for Operations, $52 million for Capital Projects).
But, as a former IPS board member, I realize that it’s not just about my kid. It’s not even about all IPS kids. This is about everyone’s property tax bill, sure – but as always, for me, it’s about principle.
Here’s why I cannot support the referendum. I need to jog your memory on something, dear reader.
Five short years ago, in 2013, Dr. Ferebee took the helm of IPS. I was on the board at this time. Despite his predecessor’s opposite finding that the district was in a severe financial crisis (negative $30 million), Ferebee announced that IPS ACTUALLY HAD A BUDGET SURPLUS. This was huge news; there was coverage of the story in WTHR, Chalkbeat, Indy Star, and IBJ. Do you remember this? It was an awesome revelation – my question is, in the five years following this announcement, where did the money go?
I don’t want to over simplify a complicated situation. Have there been cuts to public education? Absolutely there have. Are these cuts bullshit? Yes they are…and the intricacies of school finance are not for the faint of heart. I could never do full justice to all of these moving parts in the scope of one blog entry. But here is what I think is the crux of the problem: Under Dr. Ferebee’s leadership, IPS has become a willing partner in its own demise – – the privatization of the district through the portfolio school model that is now being deployed.
What does this mean exactly? Every time a school is in danger of failing for seven years, or really whenever IPS administrators feel like it, a school can be converted over to an Innovation Network School, which means that a charter school takes over the operations of the school. In the context of the referendum, the reason this is problematic is because the agreements that IPS is drawing up with charter school companies are extremely one sided, in favor of the charter companies. In many cases, the charter school company pays NO RENT for the use of an IPS building, while enjoying free food service, free transportation, free special education services, and so on. All of these freebies come at a significant cost to IPS, because IPS does not keep any of the money generated by the students who enroll at these Innovation Network Schools. It simply passes through the IPS coffers and directly into the hands of the charter school companies, whose CEO salaries can exceed the $300k mark.
Here is my prediction. The referendum is actually a money grab to continue expansion of these types of charter schools. We are going to receive $272 million, close schools cause the Chamber said so, sell the Ed Center, and continue to turn our schools over to charters to operate in exponential fashion (not that charters perform any better). I predict that IPS will become a shell corporation – a public entity that gives away its assets and passes most of its money on to charter school companies and their fatcat CEOs, while still providing a mediocre education. I don’t speak for anyone else, but this is NOT what I’d like to see happen with $272 million worth of tax dollars.
My comments don’t reflect anything other than my personal opinion and don’t reflect any other organizations.