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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Give a brother (and a board) a break

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I am fully convinced that Dr. Lewis Ferebee is doing a great job running Indianapolis Public Schools. Why can I say that? Well, when I read recently that three “local groups” were giving low marks to the current school board, thus Ferebee, and I looked at who the groups were, all I could say to myself was that man deserves a raise, and the school board incumbents deserve to be re-elected.

The groups attacking Ferebee and the board are the Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP, Concerned Clergy and a relatively new organization called “Our IPS.” No offense, but with Black people like this, who needs the Klan and Jim Crow to hold us back? These are groups that are more concerned about employing adults than about seeing minority children get educated.

Remember about five years ago when the state was looking at taking over several IPS schools that had been failing for years? Instead of saying it was time to end the madness of allowing schools to graduate their second and third years of failing graduating classes, it was organizations like the above mentioned that fought the takeover. Luckily they lost, but I digress.

I decided to take a look at where IPS is, under the leadership of the current board and Dr. Ferebee, to help make my case.


Graduation rates: IPS’ 2015 graduation rate is 72.1percent, a 0.7 percent increase over the previous year. And this was taking place at the same time when statewide rates fell slightly. African-American male graduation rates have increased by 7 percent under the current administration.


Enrollment: IPS has been hemorrhaging students for years, but since 2013, enrollment has held steady at about 30,000 students. And the numbers look good for the first state enrollment count day, which helps determine how much funding the district gets from the state.


Accountability: The number of IPS schools that have been rated “F” has been cut in half.  Thirty-four IPS schools were rated A, B or C in 2015.


Test scores: On IREAD-3, IPS had a 74 percent pass rate in the 2014–15 school year. That number was 70.5 percent in the 2013–14 school year.


Career Technology Center – We all know not everyone needs to go to a four-year school after high school, but kids today need a post-secondary education. Students earned 204 dual-college credits in 2015–16, as opposed to 188 in the previous year. Students also earned 108 professional certifications, up from 89 in 2014–15. Sixty-three students completed internships in 2015–16, up from 33 in the previous academic year.


Despite all these successes for the district, none of it matters unless its finances are in order. You might recall back in 2013 a previous superintendent saying IPS was facing a $30 million shortfall, but that turned out not to be the case. (And I don’t recall the NAACP or Concerned Clergy expressing any outrage.) For the 2016–17 school year, IPS will bring in $229 million, but will have $235 million in expenses, which makes for a $6 million shortfall. Part of this is due to a 1.2 percent decrease in state funding. Despite that, Ferebee and the board have taken steps to mitigate this in the long term, by getting rid of under-utilized assets and properties that only cost the district money to maintain.

And I didn’t even touch on the expansion of pre-K, as well as giving more autonomy to individual schools so they better serve their student populations without the central office dictating every policy and program.

Once again, tell me how any of this is wrong. Tell me how increased graduation rates, more students passing I-READ and getting dual credits and certificates to better prepare themselves for the world of work are bad things. You know what, you can’t. Has IPS been perfect? Of course not — no institution is. Is it a lot better than what it was a few years ago? To quote my dearly departed grandmother: “Damn skippy!” The only people who can’t seem to figure this out are the people who are more concerned about schools being an employment agency for their friends and families and a haven for bad teachers and poor education. And this is why when they offer their brand of criticism against Ferebee and the current school board, you should follow another saying my sweet grandmother used to say: “Don’t pay them no ‘ttention.”


Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, political commentator and publisher of IndyPolitics.org. You can email comments to him at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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