IPS plans to fight back against state takeover in 2015

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lawmakers begin the 2018 session Jan. 3.

Charter Schools USA, the company running three of Indianapolis Public Schools’ former middle and high schools in state takeover, wants to expand those schools to serve younger children.

IPS’s goal is to stop them, and they hope legislators will help.

Board members met Wednesday to prepare a lobbying strategy for the Indiana General Assembly’s session that begins in January. Chief among them: reining in the state takeover process.

Lobbyists from Indianapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels say they would also advocate for stable funding for IPS and an expansion of state-funded preschool.

“We want to be very strategic and very focused,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee told school board members at a meeting tonight. “This is a significant session.”

Ferebee said he was taken aback after learning at a state board meeting earlier this month that CSUSA hoped to expand its current takeover schools — Howe and Manual High Schools and Emma Donnan Middle School  — to also serve elementary students. He said it seemed like an “overt” strategy simply to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know where it will go, but when you have those types of proposals put forth, we need to be prepared to present our own information … of what we believe is appropriate and not appropriate,” Ferebee said. “The whole takeover reform has been problematic. We’re at a pivotal time when we need to get more details, more meat on the bones, of what’s the role of the takeover providers and what’s the role of the district. We’re willing to have that conversation, but we need all the cards on the table.” 

IPS lobbyist Libby Cierzniak said expansions to allow state takeover operators to serve more grade levels could drastically impact the district.

“(CSUSA) also offered to take over Arlington (High School),” Cierzniak said. “Right now, there are 22 IPS boundary schools that feed into the four takeover schools. If these are expanded, IPS will be put in a position where it will have to close schools.”

IPS also will seek to keep its funding levels stable as the next two-year state budget is passed next year. Republicans have already announced that they plan to increase education funding and to narrow the gap between the larger amount districts serving large numbers of poor children receive compared to other districts.

IPS ranks in the top 20 school districts in the state for per-student funding since most of its students are poor enough to qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, according to Faegre Baker Daniels.

“Because IPS is one of the highest poverty school districts in the state, this is going to be a huge issue for IPS this session,” Cierzniak said.

The lobbyists said they will continue to push for an expansion of the state’s new preschool pilot program. Gov. Mike Pence pushed for the program’s approval earlier this year, and told Indianapolis Star columnist Matt Tully earlier this week that he planned to seek $10 million more for the pilot program next year.

“Early education continues to be an issue we want to see addressed,” Ferebee said. “We know we have a significant number of students who enter IPS in Kindergarten without that early education experience. We believe an opportunity to have preschool will pay dividends.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede