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Statement from IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson

IPS Board moves forward with Rebuilding Stronger’s capital referendum, delays voting on operating referendum

Read the statement from IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson

IPS Families and Staff:

Today, the IPS Board of School Commissioners agreed to delay voting on the operating referendum, which would support a portion of the district’s Rebuilding Stronger plan. The decision was made during the Action Session at the Winter Board Retreat at the Madam Walker Legacy Center.

Below is a statement from IPS Superintendent Dr. Aleesia Johnson about the decision. More details will be shared soon with families, staff, and the community.

Good morning. Thank you to those in our community who have made time to be here today. I am disappointed that our governance team has not been able to come to a shared level of agreement regarding the operating referendum and have therefore chosen not to bring it forward today. As I’ve previously shared, the reason for coming to our community with referenda requests was because of the work we’d done and input we’d received from our community for over a year about what they want to see in the future of IPS. Our Rebuilding Stronger plan became the reflection of that input — not a plan beloved by everyone and not a plan without difficult decisions — but a plan to set us on a course to be a more equitable district with great school choices open to every family in every neighborhood.

I want to be clear that even without the operating referendum moving forward today, we are committed to the Rebuilding Stronger framework and will share with our staff, students, and families if and how the delayed operating referendum impacts any of the implementation timeline for Rebuilding Stronger. Additionally, I want to reiterate what Vice President Angelia Moore shared, which is that the capital referendum, unanimously approved by the Board of School Commissioners in December, will remain on the ballot for May. For those of you in the room who are here to voice your support today, I want to be very clear that we still need it to be successful on May 2nd. What that funding will mean for students and their learning environments is a very big deal, and I don’t want that to be lost in the disappointment of today.

As many of you know, I’m not just the IPS superintendent, but also an IPS mom with all three of my children attending schools in our district. They all play sports, and I’m always struck by this reflection that the name on their jersey matters so much when they’re on the field or the court, but that name doesn’t matter when they leave it. For the vast majority of our students, they are still Black. Or Latino. Or Poor. And statistics tell us how those backgrounds or identities, that our kids have no control over, can shape the future of their lives.

Over the last few months, we have heard from families, many of whom have children who look like mine, say that the children are ours. That they are a part of Indianapolis, they are young people who could be my sons, daughters, or neighbors. That though they may have chosen other schools, at the end of the day, they are also under our care.

In many ways, I believe that. I believe in the idea of the village. I believe it takes a village for our children to grow and prosper. I believe in the idea of stronger together. But the reality is that we have created an educational system and landscape in this city that goes against the idea of the village. It is every person for themselves. It is “how do I make sure my school gets the resources?” It is “I only need to be accountable to the people I directly serve.” It is “there’s five schools already in a neighborhood? Well, there’s also an empty building and I’ve been authorized to open a school so I’m going to go there” — further stretching already scarce resources.

If the children are all our children, then our system needs to reflect that idea. If we believe it takes all of us to accomplish the greater good of young people set up for success, then we need to be able to have very hard conversations and ask ourselves what needs to change in our community to make it so.

This isn’t just an IPS conversation. Since the late 1960s and earlier, policy decisions have been made to destabilize and undermine the success of this district. Policy decisions have been made to rob neighborhoods of needed resources. And then we find ourselves here, in this place, wondering why there are neighborhoods and schools that aren’t thriving. And we look for a new solution, and, also not shocking, those schools experience similar challenges.

There are those in our community who are incentivized by cultivating dissension to position one group of people against another. Who are incentivized by schools failing kids — because it helps to prove their point — be it a charter school that closes in January or a district school that is restarted.

There are those who do their work in the name of equity but have financially supported and aligned organizationally with legislators in our statehouse who, in 2023, have sponsored or supported bills that target groups of students who are already among the most vulnerable in our schools and propose things like prohibiting organizations from diversity training and awareness. But the refrain I hear when I question that is “we’re aligned when it comes to education” and, presumably, that’s reason enough.

It is very easy in our current cultural context to get pulled into the right/wrong; us/them; black/white construct. I am absolutely guilty of falling into it. But I don’t want to stay there. Because I have every interest in our young people being successful — especially the ones I’m directly responsible for in Indianapolis Public Schools and indirectly responsible for as an adult in this community who cares deeply about its future.

I hope we all see ourselves as sharing in that responsibility. I hope we all can appreciate that there are stories and lives behind the data and statistics that many get to read so comfortably from their home offices. That the primary goal isn’t about efficiency or cost reductions, but it is about our collective responsibility to our future.

We won’t all agree on how we get to this better place. In fact, I’m sure we won’t. But, right now, in Indianapolis, we have lost sight of the concept of the village when organizations publicly declare that they cannot support funding for well-documented and much-overdue improvements needed for our childrens’ schools and question if they need access to expanded offerings like algebra and music. That is concerning. I have to believe that we all want for other people’s children what we want for our own, and I’m left to wonder why, time and time again, IPS is asked to wait on behalf of its students, to be more creative with its already strained resources, to figure out another way, when districts all across the Greater Indianapolis area make strides and have leveraged community investment multiple times to improve their buildings and experiences of their students — often without a comment or question from those outside of their district and school communities.

So, for those reasons, I believe now is the time to have some hard conversations. If this referendum is to be delayed, then my hope is that there is an outcome that can come from it that will be even better for our students. If we believe that all the children belong to all of us, then let’s talk about how all children win and be clear about who is responsible. And let’s talk about what everyone, public schools of all types, may need to sacrifice to accomplish that goal of our children winning so that taxpayers aren’t asked to bear the burden of supporting what is currently two different systems in our center city.

When we started our work around Rebuilding Stronger, which is a plan that we will continue to execute, I said that “we can do hard things.”

I still believe that, so I’m not only asking for our community’s support to pass our capital referendum, but I’m also calling on our community and its leaders to come together and do some hard things and have some hard conversations.

I believe we can do it. I’m in on behalf of the 31,000 students I serve in IPS and I’m in on behalf of the thousands of others who I also want to win.