by Dr. Lewis Ferebee
For generations Indianapolis Public Schools has set a standard of excellence in educating and mentoring the young men and women of this city. In every field, in every decade, we have produced strong leaders and difference makers.
The history of our district is intertwined with the history of Indianapolis. As we have prospered, so have our capital and our communities. Located in some of our most venerable neighborhoods, our schools are the lynchpin of continued growth, investment, and opportunity.
With the help of our outstanding Board of Commissioners, grassroots leaders, and our business community, we have been able to make tremendous progress in the past several years.
Our graduation rate has risen from 47 percent ten years ago to 83 percent in the recent statewide data for the class of 2017. Our student population has risen to 31,000 (most in three years), and we offer 88 unique schools and programs. With the number of young parents and professional adults moving into the urban core, Indianapolis Public Schools is poised for significant future growth.
To achieve this growth, however, we need additional resources. It has been 10 years since IPS has sought increased revenues through the referenda process, but on November 6th, voters residing in the IPS District will have the opportunity to vote yes on two questions that will significantly affect our future and the future of our city.
There is no greater, no more critical priority in our city and for our children than education. The IPS referenda will have an impact on the District’s average household of just $3.19 per month. In return for this modest investment, Indianapolis Public Schools will be able to make our students feel safer at school, while also incentivizing our teachers and school leaders to remain in our communities.
The capital referendum seeks $52 million to address school safety needs and address some deferred maintenance issues. We will invest in an upgraded communications system, stronger windows, and bollards outside our schools to better protect students, teachers, and staff.
As the average IPS school is nearly 60 years old, many of our facilities need the type of care required of an older home. We pared back our capital referendum ask, so much more will need to be done, but we have prioritized safety enhancements above all.
The operating referendum seeks $220 million so we may further invest in teacher and school leader compensation. We must continue to recruit and retain top talent in the classroom. As superintendent, I ended a five-year freeze on teacher salaries, but we still need to continue to invest more in our teachers.
As I have stated on the record to media and at numerous public forums, 100 percent of the operating referendum will go to salaries.
One of the reasons we are able to make this commitment is our beneficial partnership with the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. Working together, we will continue to find efficiencies, maximize the dollars we receive from taxpayers, and report back to the community in the most transparent way possible. This is a truly unique collaboration that can be a model not only for IPS, but for other school district as well.
Our recent partnership with the Indy Chamber doesn’t mark the beginning of our efforts to right-size our portfolio and respect taxpayer dollars, but represents a continuation of what we’ve been doing the past several years.
Due to property tax caps and reductions in state and federal funding, IPS has lost tens of millions of dollars in the past four years; despite this, IPS has invested an additional $8.8 million annually the past three years to provide teacher raises and maintain cost-neutral benefits. Additionally, since 2011, IPS has reduced central office expenses by 32.5 percent (on a per-pupil basis). Finally, IPS has realized more than $18 million dollars from right-sizing real estate holdings.
Our referenda have been endorsed by organizations as diverse as the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis Education Association.
We even received strong, positive words from the entrepreneur behind IndyPolitics.org—Abdul Hakim-Shabazz.
They know, as we all know, that quality education should not be limited by neither income nor zip code.
As you head vote early through either the mail or at an absentee vote center, or vote at the polls on November 6th, please vote to support Indianapolis Public Schools and our drive to invest in our teachers, make our schools safer, and provide our students with an inspiring and rewarding education.
Lewis Ferebee is the Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools.