Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is moving forward with all facets of its Rebuilding Stronger Plan, keeping with the district’s commitment to transform the school district into one that is excellent and equitable.
In a video message released to the IPS community this afternoon, IPS Supt. Dr. Aleesia Johnson explained how the district is preparing to move forward with the initiative — without seeking an operating referendum this May.
“I’m here to say loud and clear: Rebuilding Stronger is moving forward,” said Dr. Johnson. “Our planning to ensure implementation for both next school year and 2024–25 presses on. We will ensure there are excellent choices open to every single one of our students, in every school, in every neighborhood.”
In 2021, Dr. Johnson laid out the district’s Rebuilding Stronger initiative, one that called for bold changes. Since then, IPS has been engaging with its stakeholders on what matters to them most when it comes to education — from academics to facilities to extracurriculars.
In December 2022, the IPS Board of School Commissioners unanimously approved a $410 million 2023 Capital Referendum, which is on the May ballot. If approved, IPS will be able to make the needed improvements and upgrades to the district’s elementary and middle school buildings.
In January 2023, the Board decided to delay going out for an operating referendum in May. After that delay, the administration had to consider how the Rebuilding Stronger plan could proceed.
“We’ve been doing the detailed work over the past several weeks to figure out if we could execute our full Rebuilding Stronger plan given our budget realities — and without seeking an operating referendum this May,” said Dr. Johnson. “And, while we know there are number of factors at the state level that can ultimately impact this timeline, my goal then remains my goal today — to deliver on what this community most values for our students, our teachers, and our families, while also making sure we have the money we need to stay on a sustainable path.”
Dr. Johnson said that by moving forward with the full Rebuilding Stronger plan, IPS students and their families will see dramatic changes through the district:
- It means more excellent offerings. Every IPS student will have an experience defined by excellent choices. Every elementary school will have art, music, PE, and computer science classes. Every middle school student will have access to band/orchestra, Algebra 1, and World Languages.
- It means more great schools. Rebuilding Stronger will replicate and expand high-demand, higher-performing programs in more neighborhoods and for more students. IPS will both increase seats in our higher-performing schools and increase the number of high-demand schools.Pending support of the 2023 Capital Referendum, IPS also will make significant improvements to modernize facilities.
- It also means more equitable access. Rebuilding Stronger will make IPS’ system more equitable by dividing the district into four zones, each of them roughly reflecting the district’s diversity by race and income. Families will now have a choice to sign up for any school in their zone and receive transportation.
According to Dr. Johnson, the district will still need to seek an operating referendum but can move forward in the meantime by reallocating savings across central services and operations functions.
“We know we can’t wait forever. Remember the year 2026?” she said. “My goal in proposing the operating referendum now was to be proactive, to not wait until we drove right up to the edge of the cliff to get that done. I thought it was better to come to the community at one time with both immediate needs we faced — the capital referendum and operating referendum — to be transparent about our needs.”
Dr. Johnson said her job from here forward is multifold:
- First and most prudent: To work with our community to pass our 2023 IPS Capital Referendum on May 2. “The capital referendum will allow IPS to make improvements needed to our elementary and middle school buildings — bringing them from ‘poor’ to ‘good’ condition and preparing our facilities for a variety of new and exciting programming for students.”
- Second: To get to work improving schools and school experiences NOW for our kids. “I refuse to ask any student to wait any longer than necessary for Algebra or computer science or art or music. I refuse to keep sending students to schools in buildings that are so overdue for upgrades. And I refuse to lose the genius and talent of any more of our students to neighboring districts or schools while we wait to make ours excellent. We’ve seen and shared the data with our community, and we know that, especially for our students of color and students from lower-income backgrounds, they aren’t getting access to the experiences they deserve. And I simply will not ask them to wait.”
- Third: To prepare for an operating referendum renewal ask before our current referendum expires in 2026. “Eight out of the 11 surrounding school districts in Marion County rely on operating referendums and the renewal of those investments — IPS will need to do the same.”
Dr. Johnson said what everyone can do right now is to make sure they’re registered to vote so their voices are heard on May 2.
“Be sure you’re staying connected to our (IPS) social media and website as we look forward to soon sharing all the ways you can be involved and stay updated on the work ahead. In IPS, we are rebuilding stronger!”
REBUILDING STRONGER FULL IMPLMENTATION FAQs
You said RBS is moving forward as planned, what precisely does that mean?
Rebuilding Stronger is our commitment to ensure there are excellent choices open to every single one of our students, in every school, in every neighborhood. It’s about saying good enough for some, isn’t good enough. We will be moving forward on all pieces of this plan:
- More excellent offerings
- From 34.4% of middle school students with Band/Orchestra → 100%
- From 34.1% of middle school students with World Language → 100%
- From 41% of middle schools students with Algebra 1 → 100%
- From 75% of elementary school students with Computer Science → 100%
- From 84% of elementary students with Music → 100%
- More great schools
- We will double the number of high-demand, higher-performing seats available to students by both increasing seats in our higher-performing schools and increasing the number of high-demand schools through both grade reconfiguration and program replication.
- We will invest in our facilities (pending successful passage of our 2023 Capital Referendum).
- More equitable access
- Rebuilding Stronger will make our system more equitable by dividing our district into four zones, each of them roughly reflecting our district’s diversity by race and income. Families will now have a choice to sign up for any school in their zone and receive transportation.
- These zones will also reduce the number of student transfers due to change in address by 76%.
You told us you needed two referendums to do Rebuilding Stronger. How can everything move forward without the operating referendum?
- Our students deserve these experiences now. So, it’s our job to get this done.
- Like a majority of school districts in Marion County and Central Indiana, IPS has utilized an operating referendum to adequately support funding for major initiatives and operations.
- We have the funding to do all this for now, but not for the long term. We can put the operating referendum off temporarily, but we must act by 2026.
- We will push on now by moving up savings across our central services and operations functions to buy us some time.
Will you still be able to increase compensation for teachers and support staff without the operating referendum?
- We want to continue to remain competitive in Marion County. We will make this a priority to take the dollars we get from the state in the near term to give to our teachers and support staff. We’re going to be prudent and intentional with every dollar from the state to value the people in our schools.
- But if we want to sustain our ability to be competitive in the long-term, and keep our almost 90% employee retention, we’re going to need an operating referendum.
So, are schools that were scheduled to consolidate at the end of this school year still happening?
- Yes. All consolidations we planned for are moving forward.
- Families at these schools have been notified and have already been engaged in the necessary processes for a successful transition for the 2023–24 school year.
- Families at schools that will no longer be open for student instruction at the end of this school year (Floro Torrence School 83, Raymond Brandes School 65, George Buck School 94, and Francis Bellamy School 102) have already applied for seats in other IPS schools for the 2023–24 school year. We continue to work with and encourage families at these schools to complete their enrollment applications at enrollindy.org/onematch/apply/ by April 20, 2023.
Is the replication of Edison School of the Arts still happening at James Whitcomb Riley School 43?
No. Edison will not replicate its arts program at James Whitcomb Riley School 43. IPS is committed to ensuring a clear plan is in place for School 43 in the coming weeks.