IPS candidates meet public, address budget deficit

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INDIANAPOLIS – The three candidates for IPS superintendent met the public on Thursday evening, and all three spoke to Fox 59 about one of the biggest looming questions they’ll face if they get the job: how do you overcome a $20 million deficit facing the district?

Thomas Darden, Lewis Ferebee and Millard House all took turns introducing themselves and laying out their vision for IPS. The candidates also greeted those in attendance and then answered questions from the media.

Darden is a product of IPS who graduated from Tech high school, but his experience isn’t as a teacher or principal, it’s as a businessman who helped run schools in Philadelphia. Darden said his most recent work involved trying to start schools in New York for ASPIRA, Inc.

Darden cited his business background as something he’ll use to help overcome the IPS deficit. He says every strategy should be considered, including closing the central office.

“I think you have to be able to work a lot smarter than you’re working now,” Darden said. “Because my estimation, and they way I operate is that I don’t believe the budgets are going to get better next year or the year after, so better learn to operate in a lean environment.”

Lewis Ferebee is chief of staff for Durham Public Schools in North Carolina. He worked his way up through the public school system, turning around low-performing schools as a teacher and principal. He says he’s also helped work through $70 million in cuts through the past few years, and he believes he knows where to start in Indianapolis.

“As much as possible I try to protect the classroom, so I will also look for efficiencies in our operations, also efficiencies in our operational structure as well,” Ferebee said.

Millard House has worked in public schools as a teacher and principal, and started a KIPP charter school in Oklahoma. He is now a Chief Operating Officer for Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools in North Carolina, and he says overcoming the deficit in Indy will require a broad approach.

“You take a look at everything. You take a look at facilities, you take a look at staffing, you take a look at efficiency, because in many cases school districts are not as efficient as they need to be because the process and systems are not in place,” House said.

With such big decisions on the horizon parents, teachers and students were happy to listen.

“Overall it was a good opportunity to hear their own thoughts of what their abilities are,” said Carole Commons, an IPS teacher and mother of an IPS student.

“Being able to talk to them, to meet them, to get to know them,” said Margaret Commons, an IPS student. “That is a great way to  see what’s in store for the future.”

The IPS board will continue interviews on Friday and they anticipate making a decision on Saturday. Their choice won’t be made public until they can agree to terms with the person they select. A formal announcement may not come for more than a week.