Indianapolis Public Schools’ ambitious restructuring plan, “Rebuilding Stronger,” isn’t fully across the finish line but has faced backlash from the community and incoming school board members.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson revealed the first draft of the district’s expansive plan during a State of the District address Sept. 13. Johnson said she had been working on it for over a year to “improve the student experience for all, not just some of our students.”
Rebuilding Stronger includes six school closures, new grade configurations, the construction of eight new middle school buildings and school mergers — including innovation charter non-renewals and updated agreements in addition to inaugural enrollment zones and school replication.
The plan also expands special education services and provides early learning services for children 4 and younger across the district.
Johnson projected the majority of the changes will be implemented during the 2024-25 school year and estimated around 330 staff members will be impacted by closures, mergers and grade configurations, but she doesn’t expect any layoffs.
“I believe that none of this is easy,” Johnson said during a speech at Arlington Middle School on Sept. 13, “but it is what it takes to align resources and values.”
The district continued to host public meetings at schools through the month of October for the community to discuss how the changes could affect them and collect feedback on ways to improve the proposal.
“We’re excited to talk to our community about this,” Johnson told the Recorder before an Oct. 27 board meeting, “to help make the case of why our students are deserving of the same opportunities that are afforded to other students around us in this community and to gain our community support.”
The final draft of the Rebuilding Stronger plan was presented to the IPS school board Oct. 27 and included a few changes from the initial proposal, such as algebra and arts courses for all middle school students, shifts in transportation and accommodations, as well as a financing plan.
The IPS school board unanimously approved a proposal to place a $410 million capital referendum on the May primary ballot to fund new school construction and renovations. Those funds would go toward a new $34.6 million facility for Joyce Kilmer School 69 and renovations at approximately 20 other schools. If approved by voters, it would add $3.18 per month for most taxpayers.
The board later delayed a vote on a separate $413 million property tax referendum.
In total, the district is asking for more than $800 million to fund the plan.
The votes came amid outcry from the community about the reorganizing plan. Plus, education reform groups have been calling for the district to share funds with independent charter schools. Johnson has said the district had no plans of sharing the funds with independent charter schools.
Many families in the community feel the plan features program expansions that haven’t been well-researched and will increase the overall racial and socioeconomic equity gap between traditional public school and charter school students.
The IPS school board has until Feb. 17 to vote on the language to meet the deadline for the May 2 primary ballot.
“The specifics of the operating referendum are still under consideration as we continue conversations with our partners,” Marc Ransford, spokesperson for IPS, said in a statement Dec. 13. “We remain committed to delivering on our Rebuilding Stronger plan and earning our community’s support.”
There will be an added wrinkle when the board votes on the $413 million referendum because all three new members, who will join the board at the start of 2023, at one point said they would vote against the plan, though some later said they were undecided after the district made minor changes.
Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.