When the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners convened for its Agenda Review Session on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and its Action Board Session on Thursday, Dec. 14, topics included the district’s first operating referenda, a new transportation model, and school quality review interventions.

What follows is a deeper look at several of the agenda items and the action taken.

Referenda Preliminary Determination Hearing

IPS has lost $24.2 million in state and federal funding since 2010. It has also lost an average of $16.8 million annually since 2011 due to property-tax cuts. The district has significantly cut overhead and operating costs, but cannot continue to operate at a structural deficit.

To continue to provide the highest quality of education for all students within the district and to competitively retain and recruit exceptional teachers (through compensation and benefits), the district is seeking capital and operational referenda.

IPS has not sought a referendum since 2008, while six school districts in Marion County have successfully completed operating referenda and four have completed capital referenda within the same timeframe.

Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, IPS superintendent; Ahmed Young, IPS chief of staff and general counsel; and financial advisors presented financial and legal information pertaining to the district’s pursuit of a $200 million capital referendum and an approximately $92 million operating referendum.

The following points offer a more detailed explanation on why IPS is seeking additional funding, and how the capital and operating referenda would benefit the district.

 Why Does IPS Need Additional Funding?

  • Since the 2010-11 school year, IPS has received $10 million less in state funding. That’s about $300 less per student.
  • Since the 2010-11 school year, IPS has received $14.2 million less in federal funding. That’s about $450 less per student.
  • IPS has lost an average of $16.8 million annually since 2011 due to property-tax caps.
  • Despite the losses, the district has invested more than $8.8 million annually from 2015-16 to 2017-18 to provide teacher raises and maintain cost-neutral benefits (despite significant increases in health care costs).

Operating Referendum

An operating referendum allows school districts to seek additional funding for teacher salaries and academic services from local taxpayers through a vote. If the referendum is passed on May 8, 2018, it would allow the district to:

  • Generate approximately $92 million as an annual allocation for eight (8) calendar years.
  • Provide for teacher attraction, retention and recruitment, expand academic programs, and continue to provide exceptional support and services for students with special needs.
  • Allow the district to provide all employees with up to a 2 percent annual cost of living increase and maintain health care benefits as cost-neutral for employees for eight (8) calendar years.

Capital Referendum

The capital improvement referendum allows school districts to seek additional funding for building improvements from local taxpayers through a vote. If the referendum is passed on May 8, 2018, it would allow the district to:

  • Generate $200 million to fund the myIPS Safety, Security and Technology Project, which includes:
  • Enhancing safety and security at all IPS-owned facilities.
  • Renovating and improving school facilities to address maintenance needs.
  • Upgrading classroom technology and equipment by investing in energy-efficient technology to reduce annual operating costs across the district.

Financial Impact

If the operating and capital referenda pass, homeowners (and businesses) in the IPS district will be assessed an increase in property taxes. Those increases include Operating Referendum: Calls for a proposed local property levy of no more than $0.59 on each $100 of assessed valuation.

  • Capital Referendum: Calls for a proposed local property levy of no more than $0.1384 per $100 of assessed valuation.
  • The total monthly impact is projected to be $28.45 per month for the owner of a $123,500 home — the median home value within IPS.
  • This tax impact would depend on property value.
  • Starting in late December, voters will be able to find a calculator on the IPS website to compute their specific tax increase based on their property value.

While the district is seeking capital and operating referenda, it has also taken a proactive approach to implementing cost-savings strategies to reduce annual expenses without altering the quality of academic programming or other student services. Ways IPS administrationas saved the district money include:

  • Outsourcing bus fleet maintenance and selling former Coca-Cola Bottling Plant for mixed-use redevelopment (Massachusetts Ave.) to realize $12 million in one-time revenue.
  • Selling unused school facilities to realize $1.15 million in one-time revenue for the district, while also spurring redevelopment for the city.
  • Leasing facilities to education partners, capturing $736,500 in annual lease revenue.
  • Refinancing the district’s debt portfolio by taking advantage of favorable interest rates to lower debt service by approximately $1.5 million annually.
  • Rightsizing IPS’ central office.

Without referenda funds, IPS could be forced to:

  • Freeze teacher and employee compensation.
  • Reduce educational programs for students.
  • Reduce the quality of some services for students with special needs.
  • Continue to defer building maintenance.
  • Reduce transportation services.

Referenda Timeline

The timeline associated with the operating and capital referenda began Dec. 1 with a notice of hearing on projects and, depending on Board approval, would be determined during the election on May 8. The timeline in detail includes: 

  • 1: Notice of Hearing on Projects and Preliminary Determination Hearing.
  • 12: First Preliminary Determination Hearing. The Board will receive public comment related to the referenda pursuit.
  • 14: Second Preliminary Determination Hearing. The Board will receive public comment related to the referenda pursuit. The Board of School Commissioners adopts the resolution to pursue referenda.
  • 27: Notice of Adoption of Preliminary Determination.
  • May 8:

ACTION: Passed 5-0

State Board of Accounts (SBOA) Audit Waiver

The Board of School Commissioners’ Finance Committee has reviewed a recommendation from the administration to seek an audit waiver from the SBOA to allow IPS to contract with an independent auditor to conduct the district’s annual financial evaluation.

Chief Financial Manager Weston Young presented the district’s recommendation to seek the waiver and discuss the benefits for the district.

The Benefits of SBOA

  • Yearly audits by a CPA firm, instead of the SBOA’s biannual cycle.
  • A healthy financial management practice.
  • Choosing a private CPA firm aligns with IPS Strategic Plan 2.2, which says: “IPS will enhance financial transparency by conducting third-party auditing practices and publishing an annual report.”

As of July 1, 2017, school districts may opt out of SBOA audits and select a CPA firm to conduct them instead.

ACTION: Passed 5-0

School Quality Review (SQR) Interventions

Innovation Officer Aleesia Johnson shared support and accountability strategies for schools undergoing the SQR Interventions process, and provided specific recommendations for each school.

SQRs are applied to schools IPS determines are low-performing. In addition to considering criteria the state will use to determine intervention, IPS defines low-performing as:

  • Schools in the bottom quartile of proficiency test scores.
  • Of the schools in the bottom quartile of proficiency test scores, those in the bottom half of growth scores — those that showed the least amount of growth year over year.

SQRs are used as a means of intervention and support before the state gets involved. The purpose of SQRs is to:

  • Provide a common understanding of quality and effectiveness across schools.
  • Foster a dialogue between a school and Central Services around quality and effectiveness.
  • Furnish school and district leaders with qualitative data collected from teachers, school leaders, parents, students and community members.
  • Support district decisions on interventions and supports, restarts, closures and expansion.

An SQR provides contextual and qualitative data to better inform IPS’ decisions and recommendations for each identified school. When performing an SQR, the district looks at qualitative data to get the story behind the low-performing numbers. Sometimes that story is positive in that the low numbers are a big improvement over where the schools were previously rated. Sometimes those stories are not good. But, the district uses this information to determine what interventions or supports are required.

These schools receive support tailored to their specific needs and aligned to areas they have identified for support.

For the 2017-18 school year, IPS identified the following schools as eligible for an SQR*:

  • Emma Donnan Elementary School
  • George S. Buck School 94
  • Harshman Middle School
  • James Whitcomb Riley School 43
  • Louis B. Russell Jr. School 48
  • Washington Irving School 14
  • William McKinley School 39

During the Action Review Session, Johnson provided recommendations for each school except Washington Irving School 14, which was recommended for restart during the November Board meeting.


  • April 2017: IPS identified the seven schools and conducted meetings with each school’s leadership team and staff to share information regarding SQR processes.
  • June-September: The district informed school communities via letters, open houses and/or school events.
  • August-September: IPS completed an SQR at each school.
  • November: Findings were shared with IPS’ Board of School Commissioners and recommendations for each school were made.

*Wendell Phillips has been recommended for restart, but has not yet completed the district’s SQR process. The restart recommendation for the school was generated based on its five (5) consecutive F letter grades as well as the SQR they received from the state. 

ACTION: Presentation Only

Alternative Certification Program Partnerships

IPS partners with Indianapolis Teaching Fellows (ITF) and Teach for America (TFA) to provide additional prescreened, diverse teaching candidates for the district.

Both AmeriCorps programs, ITF and TFA partner with Marian University for a Transition to Teaching license (as applicable) and coursework to obtain licensure and a master’s degree. Both programs facilitate selection and preparation of candidates and provide ongoing support and professional development.

Human Resources Operations Officer Mindy Schlegel presented agreements governing partnerships with teacher pipeline programs. These agreements are substantially similar to prior-year agreements.

The benefits of alternative certification program partnerships are far-reaching throughout the district.

Benefits of ITF and TFA at Indianapolis Public Schools

  • Dedicated focus on recruiting diverse candidates for high-need areas.
  • Supplies an average of approximately 7 percent of IPS teacher hires.
  • Represents a total of 15 percent of the district’s new teacher hires. For the 2017 school year, IPS principals hired:
  • 30 ITF teachers.
  • 27 TFA teachers.

Overview of ITF and TFA at Indianapolis Public Schools

There are 60 ITFs available in the 2017 cohort. Of those teachers:

  • 47 percent are minorities.
  • 30 percent are male.
  • 78 percent live in Indiana.
  • ITF partners with the IPS Special Education Department on preservice training.

There are 73 TFA teachers available in the 2017 cohort. Of those teachers:

  • 40 percent are minorities.
  • 42 percent are Pell Grant recipients.
  • 42 percent teach math, science or special education.

ACTION: Passed 5-0

Surplus Property Declarations

Scott Martin, deputy superintendent for operations, presented three properties that have been declared as surplus to school corporation needs. Selling these properties isn alignment with the district’s ongoing facilities disposition strategy.

The three surplus properties identified are:

  • Forest Manor.
  • Facilities Maintenance Division.
  • Meridian Transitions.

This is a routine legal item, which will enable the listing and sale of these properties.

ACTION: Passed 4-0

Transportation Model

As the district works to make improvements to transportation for the 2018-19 school year, a two-tier transportation proposal was presented for action by IPS Transportation Director Manny Mendez.

The proposal included a recommendation to move high schools to a later start time and to provide all-choice high school transportation parameters. The proposal also recommends:

  • Elementary schools running on the first tier.
  • Middle, high and Innovation schools running on the second tier.
  • Innovation schools being able to offer two tiers and extend past the second-tier afternoon bell time as needed for extended educational hours.
  • A 20-minute breakfast prior to the first bell.

The proposal also addresses points of interest associated with the two-tier transportation model, including the potential impact to athletics and extracurricular activities, program start/end times and locations, and Evening High School.

Mendez also discussed opportunities to reduce the number of buses IPS operates (which could result in operational costs savings) by:

  • Expanding the bus stop walking distance from four-tenths to seven-tenths of a mile.
  • Limiting bus stops on narrow and short streets when possible.
  • Limiting bus stops serving multiple secondary schools when possible.

The proposed model takes into account the later start time for the district’s all-choiceschools for the 2018-19 school year and the number of district bus drivers. The pairing of buses between tiers will reduce the variation in arrival and departure times — and will improve on-time delivery.

ACTION: Presentation Only