Who Is In Charge

Despite Ritz's pleas, committee passes bill to remove her as chair

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Glenda Ritz speaking to the Indiana House Education Committee in January.

An Indiana House committee passed a bill today that would remove the guarantee that state Superintendent Glenda Ritz must chair the Indiana State Board of Education.

House Bill 1609 passed the House Education Committee 8-3 on a party-line vote despite a direct appeal from Ritz and sometimes emotional pleas from her Democratic supporters. It is expected to be voted on by the full House as early as next week.

“This political power move of House Bill 1609 is unnecessary and will do nothing to resolve the real governance issues,” Ritz said. “I urge you to pause this session from assigning changes or any further allocation to the State Board of Education.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is part of Gov. Mike Pence’s legislative agenda. It would allow the state board to elect a replacement for Ritz as its chair. State law currently dictates that the state superintendent, who is elected statewide, will chair the board. Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Indiana, pointed out the state superintendent has chaired the state board for more than 100 years.

Ritz said she agreed with House Bill 1609 supporters that the roles of state leaders in education policy should be clarified. But she proposed a summer study committee to examine the question of what changes are needed.

Her argument found little sympathy among the majority Republicans on the committee.

“We have to do something,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, citing the dysfunction of the state board. “To me this is a no-brainer.”

Ritz has frequently been at odds with the rest of the board over procedures, sometimes blocking votes or refusing requests to change the agenda. In a meeting in 2013, Ritz abruptly adjourned a state board meeting and walked out rather than allow a vote on an item she objected to. The board has taken several steps over the past year to limit Ritz’s ability to make decisions about what is placed on the agenda or when votes are taken.

As the conversation was wrapping up so the committee could vote, Rep, Terri Austin, D-Anderson, made a surprising suggestion: she asked McMillin to consider changing the bill to at least allow a co-chair design, with Ritz sharing the role.

“I’ve taught at all levels,” Austin said, with tears in her eyes. “I am saddened by what I see happening. The casualties in the end may cost us more than what we come away with in victory.”

A companion bill, House Bill 1486, which would give the state board, not Ritz or the Indiana Department of Education, authority over testing, standards, student data, state takeover, teacher evaluation and other functions, also passed the committee 9-4.

Other bills passed by the committee included:

  • A bill aimed at informing college students about their loan costs, House Bill 1042.
  • A bill that would require school districts to follow Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, House Bill 1579. The bill would require districts that don’t follow GAAP to convert by 2018.

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Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below:

Student recruitment

How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

As charter schools emerge alongside local school districts across the nation, student addresses have become a key turf war.

Charter schools have succeeded in filling their classes with and without access to student contact information. But their operators frequently argue that they have a right to such information, which they say is vital to their recruitment efforts and gives families equal access to different schools in their area.

Disputes are underway right now in at least two places: In Tennessee, school boards in Nashville and Memphis are defying a new state law that requires districts to hand over such information to charters that request it. A New York City parent recently filed a formal complaint accusing the city of sharing her information improperly with local charter schools.

How do other cities handle the issue? According to officials from a range of school districts, some share student information freely with charters while others guard it fiercely.

Some districts explicitly do not share student information with charter schools. This includes Detroit, where the schools chief is waging an open war with the charter sector for students; Washington, D.C., where the two school sectors coexist more peacefully; and Los Angeles.

Others have clear rules for student information sharing. Denver, for example, set parameters for what information the district will hand over to charter schools in a formal collaboration agreement — one that Memphis officials frequently cite as a model for one they are creating. Baltimore and Boston also share information, although Boston gives out only some of the personal details that district schools can access.

At least one city has carved out a compromise. In New York City, a third-party company provides mass mailings for charter schools, using contact information provided by the school district. Charter schools do not actually see that information and cannot use it for other purposes — although the provision hasn’t eliminated parent concerns about student privacy and fair recruitment practices there.

In Tennessee, the fight by the state’s two largest districts over the issue is nearing a boiling point. The state education department has already asked a judge to intervene in Nashville and is mulling whether to add the Memphis district to the court filing after the school board there voted to defy the state’s order to share information last month. Nashville’s court hearing is Nov. 28.

The conflict feels high-stakes to some. In Memphis, both local and state districts struggle with enrolling enough students. Most schools in the state-run Achievement School District have lost enrollment this year, and the local district, Shelby County Schools, saw a slight increase in enrollment this year after years of freefall.

Still, some charter leaders wonder why schools can’t get along without the information. One Memphis charter operator said his school fills its classes through word of mouth, Facebook ads, and signs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’re fully enrolled just through that,” said the leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with the state and local districts. “It’s a non-argument for me.”

A spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, the state-managed charter school whose request for student information started the legal fight in Memphis, said schools in the Achievement School District should receive student contact information because they are supposed to serve students within specific neighborhood boundaries.

“At the end of the day, parents should have the information they need to go to their neighborhood school,” said the spokeswoman, Cynara Lilly. “They deserve to know it’s open.”