Indianapolis Public Schools and Indy Chamber Find Common Ground on Operating Referendum

The Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners approved a $220 million operating referendum tonight, putting a revised request on the November 6, 2018 general election ballot along with $52 million in capital projects.  The proposal narrows the gap with the $100 million framework advanced by the Indy Chamber, based on a sweeping operational assessment conducted cooperatively with IPS.

The Board agreed in March to partner with the Chamber on the assessment, which identified hundreds of millions of dollars in potential savings from dozens of efficiency recommendations.  The process sparked intense discussions over the last two weeks towards an approach to address the District’s structural budget deficit, invest in priorities like teacher and principal pay, and balance impacts on quality of life and tax burden.

“Over the last four months we’ve worked closely with Superintendent Ferebee and his team,” said Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber.  “Tonight, this work is paying off in a plan that’s realistic for our largest school system, reasonable for our taxpayers, and recognizes the value of great teachers and principals.”

“We appreciate the involvement of the Chamber as we envision the future of our district – we knew this process wouldn’t always be easy, and more difficult decisions are ahead of us,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.  “Looking forward, we’ll need the support of the Chamber and other community partners more than ever to pursue efficiencies and preserve educational options and learning opportunities for our students.”

Arriving at a middle ground between the District’s earlier proposals and the Chamber assessment will allow more neighborhood engagement and technical evaluation of school utilization issues, a longer phase-in of proposed changes to transportation, and a slower pace of anticipated teacher attrition.

Chamber and District officials acknowledged that further analysis is needed to develop options that work within the $220 million operating referendum.  Consultants from Faegre Baker Daniels and Policy Analytics, commissioned by the Chamber to conduct the operational assessment, are already working with the IPS on detailed models.

“Many of our ideas came from the District itself, but we pushed for a faster pace,” Huber continued.  “If we didn’t raise tough issues in areas like facilities and transportation, we wouldn’t have been doing our job.  But Indianapolis thrives by building consensus and working collaboratively on big issues – and preparing today’s IPS students to thrive in tomorrow’s job market and building tomorrow’s economy is one of the biggest challenges we face.”

While the $220 million referendum amount will moderate some concerns about the scale and timeline for implementing the assessment’s findings, Board members still see a challenging blueprint for budget reductions and organizational changes ahead.

“We owe IPS families and the broader community a rigorous process before seeking a referendum, and our partnership with the Chamber has been invaluable as we work to maximize the educational impact of every dollar we receive,” said IPS board president Michael O’Connor.  “What kept us working to this point is a shared commitment to the success of our students and their families.”

Huber agreed that tonight’s action would be one milestone in a longer-term engagement between the Indy Chamber and Indianapolis Public Schools, beyond the Chamber’s assessment and endorsement of the operating and capital referenda.

“This partnership was made possible by the involvement of Al Hubbard, whose genuine and long-standing philanthropic interest in IPS reached a new level through this process,” Huber finished.   “We anticipate continued investment from the business community on staffing and other transition needs to support a more efficient District that ‘works smarter’ towards student success.”

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