By Andrew Pillow
Indianapolis Public School families are still reeling from the news that several schools will be closed and/or converted. Predictably this has led to backlash and intense meetings. Many families and advocates have vowed to fight the decision.
The sentiment among the resistance to the closures is clear, "We don’t want our neighborhood school to close.” While that is an entirely understandable feeling, it doesn’t change the fact closing schools is a long overdue necessity.
In a parallel universe where money is not a factor, it would probably be possible to keep some of these schools open. However, the fact of the matter is money is finite and extremely limited in Indianapolis Public Schools. The limited funds they have should not be used to buttress the rising infrastructure costs of under enrolled schools.
The plan was for Indianapolis Public Schools to close Broad Ripple and John Marshall and convert Arlington and Northwest into middle schools. A quick look at the enrollment of these schools show almost all of them are operating well below their capacity. Three of them are actually not even enrolled to 50% of the facility's capacity.
You would like to think with less students comes less costs. The reality is these facilities, that were built to accommodate around 1500 students, still cost the same to operate whether or not 1500 students attend. Because money is distributed to schools based on the number of students they have, under enrolled schools have to cut into the instructional budget to pay for facility costs.
This is a business decision, not an emotional one. IPS’s plan is a solid one - one which will save them around $7 million per year. That number doesn’t even include the money from the sell of the highly desirable Broad Ripple property which could fetch upwards of $8 million alone. Consolidation is key. Quite frankly, many other public school districts should do the same.
There is an additional elephant in the room here as well. Most of these schools weren’t exactly good, as defined by test scores. Critics will point out that cramming them into the same building won’t fix that (which is true) but putting them in the same building does give the district a chance to pull resources and invest in quality instruction as opposed to keeping the lights on.
There will be hard feelings about this for a long time. People grow up in a community, attend the schools, and in many cases send their children to those schools. Sometimes you see older people walking around the schools reliving the memories they had there. It’s always great to see the alumni come back for homecoming football games. School districts should try and preserve those experiences, if at all possible, but the truth is that it isn’t always possible. It’s not possible in this situation.
Indianapolis Public Schools has been hemorrhaging kids to townships and suburban schools for the past two decades. Hemorrhaging students unfortunately means hemorrhaging money if you don’t adjust. It’s time the district facility structure reflects this reality. IPS should have less property because they have less kids. It really is just that simple.