After hearing about two hours of public testimony, the Indianapolis Public Schools board on Thursday unanimously approved the Rebuilding Stronger plan, which will bring about major changes for dozens of schools throughout the state’s largest school district.
As part of the plan, six schools will close at the end of the current academic year, three of which will merge into existing schools.
The plan will also reconfigure more than three dozen K-6, K-8 and 7-8 schools into K-5 and 6-8 schools, set to take place in the 2024-2025 academic year.
During the meeting, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said she is understanding of the concerns of parents, teachers and students, but the district “cannot do everything.”
“Trade offs are real and they are necessary, but we believe what we are proposing is our current best thinking that reflects what our community told us is desired,” said Johnson. “It moves us forward to create a better experience for all of our students because we know maintaining the status quo is unacceptable.”
Some previously closed schools are also set to reopen under a reconfiguration, including Broad Ripple Middle School, which will operate in the old Broad Ripple High School building.
When presenting the final plan to the board last month, IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district would not merge Center for Inquiry at School 2 with another school as originally planned. However, the school will still convert from K-8 to K-5.
IPS says the reconfiguration would give all middle school students access to Algebra 1, world language courses, and Band/Orchestra, while all elementary students will have access to computer science and music.
Two additional changes have been made since the October board meeting, according to Chalkbeat Indiana.
IPS announced it would not demolish Francis W. Parker Montessori School 56 as originally planned. The district says it will work with the community to determine the best use for the site in the future.
Additionally, IPS has changed its mind on bringing the Global Prep charter school into Harshman Middle School to run a dual language program. The program will now be operated by Harshman.
“As proposed, we believe that the Rebuilding Stronger plan addresses the board’s guiding principles, anchored in the ideas of more excellent offerings in our schools, more great schools across our district, and expanded and more equitable access to those schools and offerings,” said Johnson.
The district plans to put two referendums on the May 2023 ballot to fund the Rebuilding Stronger plan. A $410 million capital funding referendum would support facility renovations throughout the district. The other would provide $50 million in annual operating funding for eight years, which Johnson said would support expanded student offerings, as well as teachers.
The ballot referendum for operating expenses would increase the tax rate from 19 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 25 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The capital referendum would request roughly 16 cents per $100 of assessed value to cover debt for facilities. However, district officials said that they will soon finish paying off previous debt for capital projects, a move that would lower the overall tax rate and effectively cancel out that 16-cent increase.
Johnson said if the referendums pass, the median homeowner in the IPS district would see an overall property tax increase of $6 per month.
The board would still need to approve putting the referendums on the ballot.
IPS also says the plan would not involve staff layoffs. About 115 staff members are estimated to be affected by the school closures, and the district plans to offer them $10,000 retention stipends.
Principals affected by the school mergers or grade reconfiguration will be offered a $12,000 retention bonus, while those affected by school closures will be offered $20,000 bonuses.
The district also plans to offer $8,000 signing bonuses for teachers in areas deemed “highly-specialized” or “high-need,” including special education, science and math.
Looking forward, IPS says it will identify a supplemental administrator in the 2023-2024 academic year who will support schools experiencing a program change. Additionally, the district will begin searching in January for principals for the new schools that will launch as a result of the plan.
As officials heard feedback from parents and other members of the community, many have pushed for the district to partner with the Paramount charter school network. IPS says leaders from both organizations are currently in talks about a potential future partnership.
The district is also moving forward with an innovation school partnership with the Near Eastside Innovation School Corp. for the continued operation of Washington Irving School 14. An innovation agreement is expected to be presented to the board in early 2023.