Before we get started I have to say something in the interest of full disclosure. I do some consulting work with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Now with that said, I have been a big fan of charters and school choice long before I had any idea who Milton Friedman was.
Now with that said, the Mind Trust this week announced $1 million grants for two organizations to start up charter schools in Indianapolis. This type of move tends to raise the ire of IPS and its enablers. They complain, or bitch and moan, about charter schools taking their students. I would argue that if IPS had its act together, charters would not have been necessary in the first place. However, when I say things like this, it always comes up, "Abdul, how would you run IPS?" So I decided to scribble down a few thoughts on how I would run the state's largest school district. The only caveat is that I have the same power as Dr. White. Let's begin, shall we...
1. Anything IPS is doing that has nothing to do with the direct education of children is getting outsourced or consolidated with another school district: cafeteria, janitorial, human resources, payroll, professional development, property care, etc. The money we save goes back into classroom instruction. I'm also going to unload any surplus property.
2. I'm going to fire half to two-thirds of the central office, including human resources. They won't be needed because power will be returned to the individual schools and principals would have control over hiring. And with the savings we put the resources back into the classroom. And every IPS employee is going to get a substitute teacher's license. That way if a teacher is out, they get to step up and every employee will have to spend one day a month in a classroom, even me.
3. Unless there is some reason why they can't, all my high school students are getting IndyGo year-round bus passes. They can catch the bus to school and then also use it to get to work in the summer.
4. Kiss the overall district budget good-bye. I am eliminating it and giving each principal a budget for his/her school and virtual autonomy on how to run it. We'll spell out some general guidelines (I'll use an independent board for purchasing and other related matters) and expectations, but after that, it's their baby. And they better get results. Everyone will be held accountable.
5. As far as teachers go, I'm putting together a kitchen cabinet with a member from every school to tell me what I NEED to know, not want to know. And they will be involved in developing our evaluation models for student and teacher performance. Their selection will be based on effectiveness and history of implementing classroom reform.
6. I'm also going to create several charter schools from existing schools. And if you want your child to attend, you have to sign an agreement that you will make at least four (hour) visits to the school per year and participate in four activities. And if I can pull it off, I'm going to turn Northwest into a charter boarding school, where kids can be in a learning environment 24 hours a day. If the parents won't do their job, then we will.
7. I'm going to the state and ask for virtually every waiver I can get, particularly for those students with special needs that justifiably impede their ability to take standardized tests.
8. I'm going to partner with every church and institution of higher learning in the county to create an after-school mentoring and tutoring program.
9. Every seven years I am going to require teachers take a year-long paid sabbatical to recharge and refresh their skills.
10. I'm going to apologize to the citizens of Indianapolis for not doing this sooner.
Granted the devil would be in the details, but I truly believe the answers to our problems with schools can be found in empowering staff, returning power to individual schools and not hiding behind excuses. My goal would be to offer parents and kids the most awesome education they could get that every charter and private school would go out of business because everybody would be beating a path to my school doors. Had someone done this a long time ago, IPS wouldn't be as in bad a shape as the current superintendent's wardrobe.
By now you've likely heard that Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard Friday issued a veto of the Democrat-controlled City-County Council's proposal that would have spent $180,000 on new council maps.
The Democrats cried foul after the Republicans, as one of their last acts in control of the council, approved new maps. The mayor's office contends the maps are perfectly legal and there's no reason to revisit the issue.
In his veto message, Ballard said the council had "legally and fairly redistricted earlier this year" and with the city facing a $47 million shortfall, he called the proposal "an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money."
Democrats were not too happy. City-County Council President Maggie Lewis says state law requires the council to redraw the maps in 2012. The Republicans did not follow the appropriate process and the entire matter is likely to land in court, she said.
From a legal perspective, the key dispute here is over the language in the state statute that governs this entire process — particularly the phrase "shall by ordinance."
Under the statute, IC 36-3-4-3, the council shall by ordinance, divide the whole county in 25 districts that are compact and equal in population that do not cross precinct boundaries. The law says the division shall be made during the second year after the federal census is taken.
For Democrats, and other critics, that means the maps should have been drawn in 2012. Instead, they say the mayor and Republicans drew the maps in 2011 and only approved them in 2012.
Republicans argue that should suffice. They point to language in IC 36-3-4-14, which says an ordinance or resolution passed by a legislative body is considered adopted when "if subject to veto, either approved by the executive or passed over the executive's veto by the legislative body." Ballard signed the ordinance on Jan. 1, a few hours into 2012, but still signed in 2012.
For most people, redistricting is a political process and no matter what, politics plays a role in everything.
The Democrats simply don't trust the Republican-drawn maps.
The Republicans say the maps are about as fair and competitive as you can get. They say, using the 2010 recorder's race numbers, both parties have 10 districts with a 55 percent majority. They also argue the new maps double the amount of minority representation by creating six council districts with minority populations of more than 50 percent and two with more than 45 percent. One of them is 24 percent Hispanic.
My Democratic friends have yet to offer any evidence disproving the GOP's claim.
They could use the free computer software being provided by Common Cause Indiana to test the GOP maps by entering the same data, or see if they could come up with a plan that has just as much minority representation. If one is going to argue the GOP played games, they did a pretty good job, they got legal maps that gave them a fighting chance in a county where Democrats have a 10-point edge. And if Democrats were going to draw their own maps, they face a challenge of producing maps just as competitive or they run the risk of being accused of playing politics, just like they're saying about their counterparts.
The only way to take the politics (almost) out of it is with a redistricting commission. It has been done in about a dozen states like New Jersey, Arizona, Washington, California. It's also been done in places like the City of Los Angeles. However, it's important to note that many of the commission members are political appointments.
In the end, no one is ever totally pleased with the result, but politicians get the joy of not having to take credit or blame for what happens next.
The closest Indianapolis has ever come to an independent redistricting commission was the Indiana Supreme Court, which drew the last set of maps 10 years ago when Democrats and Republicans couldn't agree on what the new districts should look like. Back then it was the Republicans who had a problem with the Democrat's map.
Now that the mayor has vetoed the Democrats' proposal, I have the strange feeling we're heading in that direction again.
You may not have heard of them, but I can assure you, you have likely been impacted by the work that they do. Allow me to introduce you to the 10-Point Coalition. 10-Point is a local not-for-profit group here in Indianapolis that does a lot of work in the area of crime prevention, mostly youth violence. They don't just do youth events and hold forums; these guys get, literally, down in the weeds.
For example, let's say there's a shooting at 42nd Street and Post Road and assume it's gang-related. While police are out doing their investigation, the members of the 10-Point Coalition are engaging the young people so there is no retaliation and therefore, escalation. It also reaches out to the families of both the shooter and the victim when there has been a homicide and work to provide spiritual comfort and keep things calm. The organization hires street workers who literally stay in touch with what's going down in some of the worst neighborhoods in Indianapolis, providing very valuable insight to law enforcement as to where the next trouble spots are likely to arise. And one of the biggest things 10-Point has done in the last few years is help organize parent patrols in Circle Center Mall and downtown during the weekends of Indiana Black Expo where we have mobs of young people walking the streets unsupervised. 10-Point assists IMPD and other law enforcement in keeping things calm. In other words, when nothing happens, you can thank 10-Point.
I bring this up because part of the way 10-Point is funded is through crime prevention grants administered by the Indy Parks Foundation. That funding is crucial so the organization can hire street workers and pay for the logistical infrastructure it needs to keep in tune with what's going on out on the street. For the past two years, the Parks Foundation has turned down 10-Point's requests for funding without providing a reason. The money from the Parks Foundation comes from the 65 percent tax increase in 2007, which is supposed to go to groups that help prevent crime. The money used to be distributed by the Council, however too many people complained of politics, so distribution was turned over to the Parks Foundation. The Foundation has put more of an emphasis on offender re-entry, which I can appreciate. In the interests of full disclosure, I am on the board of a local organization that deals with re-entry and ex-offenders. I strongly believe in dealing with ex-offenders, but I think the Parks Foundation has lost sight of the fact that one of the best ways to deal with ex-offenders is to make sure they don't become offenders in the first place. And that's what groups like 10-Point do. I have never been able to get a straight answer from the Parks Foundation as to why groups like 10-Point are denied funding when, I argue, they do a better job in helping keep the streets safe.
If you don't believe me, just ask IMPD. This past weekend, 10-Point decided to end their faith patrols downtown due to lack of funding. IMPD literally called and begged them to continue, noting that the police department couldn't do its job without the help of 10-Point. If IMPD can figure this out, why can't the Parks Foundation?