IPS: Arlington HS operations facing ‘uncertain future’

(WISH Photo/Eric Halvorson, file)
(WISH Photo/Eric Halvorson, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee responded Thursday to questions about the future of Arlington High School, after the charter school group running the school told the State Board of Education it can no longer afford to keep the doors open.

Tindley Accelerated Schools took over operations at Arlington High School in 2011. It was one of four IPS schools taken over by private operators after recording six straight years of “F” grades by the state.

At a meeting of the State Board of Education Wednesday, Tindley CEO Marcus Robinson said the $7,000 per student subsidy the company receives is no longer enough to continue operating.

“That operation costs us just over a million dollars. And, that’s not educating kids. That’s not books. That’s not supplies. That’s utilities at $568,000. That’s cleaning 380,000 square feet at $420,000. And, those costs go on. And, unfortunately, the way the reform was constructed, those costs fall on the turnaround school operator, and not on the district,” Robinson told the board.

The school now has around 400 students, he said.

“There are just too few kids to support such a large facility and such a large property,” Robinson said. “There are tennis courts that our kids by and large don’t use. There’s a football stadium where there is no football program because there aren’t enough kids.”

According to Ferebee, Tindley said last month that it “might not be in a financial position to operate Arlington High School for the 2014-2015 school year.” Tindley requested an additional $2.4 million in state aid, which has not been approved by the SBOE.

On Wednesday, Robinson said he was done asking for funding, and instead demanded a new transition plan.

“We’ve come today not for a paycheck, but a partnership,” he told the board. “At the end of the day, if we can’t serve the kids because we can’t afford to serve the kids, they’ll go back to IPS. And the building, and all of its debt, goes back to IPS. So, I’m asking the board to support a transition between Tindley Accelerated Schools and Indianapolis Public Schools, to exist for this school year, with the operation of the school to return to IPS in the fall of 2015.”

If that doesn’t happen, Robinson said Tindley would consider opting out of its contract within 60 days.

Ferebee responded Thursday, saying in a written statement that Tindley’s comments to the SBOE had “left a feeling of uncertainty in many members of the IPS community.”

“It’s important to understand this isn’t a dispute between IPS and Tindley or any other entity – we’re all trying to solve the problem of an unfortunate funding gap,” Ferebee wrote. “Tindley can’t afford to keep Arlington running, and IPS is unable to provide the financial resources to close the financial gap associated with operating the building under the current model. We are definitely willing to – and have offered to – provide cost-neutral services to assist Tindley moving forward, but we would not be in a financial position to assist beyond that. We will not sacrifice any resources that would jeopardize services and support for current IPS students.”

Ferebee’s statement also said the district would welcome the opportunity to “gladly invite” Arlington students back into IPS, but that a transition protocol must be established for that to happen.

“If the unfortunate event of Arlington’s closing were to occur, IPS would immediately begin the work of restoring the school’s presence in the neighborhood. We are committed to finding the best possible way to handle a potentially tense transition. We’re proud of our schools, our students, and our families; they deserve our support in an uncertain future,” he wrote.

SBOE members agreed Wednesday to establish a task force to study the idea. It will be made up of representatives from Tindley, the Indiana Department of Education, Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, and Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz asked the committed to submit their plans by July 18.

Below is the full statement released by IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee:

Yesterday’s developments at the Indiana State Board of Education meeting have left a feeling of uncertainty in many members of the Indianapolis Public Schools Community. Preliminary information had been shared in June indicating that Tindley might not be in a financial position to operate Arlington High School for the 2014-2015 school year; however, there was no reason to anticipate that the conversation about the best way to ensure a successful 2014-2015 school year for Arlington students would unfold in the way that it did. Above all, IPS is committed to serving all members of our community in a way that makes our students and families proud.

IPS appreciates the importance of maximizing our resources; we’re constantly finding new ways to be more environmentally friendly, as saving energy also saves money! IPS leaders continue to examine our use of resources district-wide, and we’re proud to say we’re making environmental and financial progress. Unfortunately, Tindley has been unable to maximize the use of Arlington’s facilities, which has placed efforts to operate the building in a tough financial spot. We had hoped that a resolution between external entities might prevent us approaching the brink of students’ return to school. We are dedicated to joining the newly formed task force that will include representatives from Tindley, the Indiana Department of Education, Gov. Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation, and Mayor Greg Ballard’s office to create the best solution to this situation.

It’s important to understand this isn’t a dispute between IPS and Tindley or any other entity – we’re all trying to solve the problem of an unfortunate funding gap. Tindley can’t afford to keep Arlington running, and IPS is unable to provide the financial resources to close the financial gap associated with operating the building under the current model. We are definitely willing to – and have offered to – provide cost-neutral services to assist Tindley moving forward, but we would not be in a financial position to assist beyond that. We will not sacrifice any resources that would jeopardize services and support for current IPS students.

The immediate next step is to determine how services will be provided for students who are currently at Arlington for the 2014-2015 school year. We are committed to the Arlington community; we want to ensure students are given a quality education; and we will strive to meet the needs of the Arlington families. We’re proud to offer excellent educational opportunities, and we gladly invite Arlington students to rejoin IPS! We also welcome the opportunity to collaborate with staff members who have been a part of Arlington for the last two years.

We bring a spirit of welcome and partnership to the table as we work toward a solution for these valued members of the IPS community. Arlington has been a vital part of the neighborhood for a very long time, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. If the unfortunate event of Arlington’s closing were to occur, IPS would immediately begin the work of restoring the school’s presence in the neighborhood. We are committed to finding the best possible way to handle a potentially tense transition. We’re proud of our schools, our students, and our families; they deserve our support in an uncertain future.

This situation points out some of the holes in Indiana’s school reform. Once we resolve what happens at Arlington, there’s still more discussion that needs to take place about this model. We have many more students attending takeover schools, and a plan for long-term implementation and transition must be determined.

-Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, IPS Superintendent

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