INDIANAPOLIS — In a matter of weeks, board members are expected to vote on a final version of the Rebuilding Stronger Plan for Indianapolis Public Schools.
As we’ve reported before, the proposed plan includes a variety of sweeping changes, including reorganizing schools, changing school zones and even some building closures.
Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said the district has rolled out surveys and hosted numerous school and community meetings since unveiling the plan’s draft in September. During that time, Johnson said they’ve listened and adjusted to feedback.
During Thursday’s board meeting, Johnson presented updates made to the proposed plan, which she said are mostly school-specific.
Besides the latest updates to the proposed plan, IPS families are also getting an idea of how the district plans to pay for for it. On Thursday, district leaders proposed two referendums, which total to $810 million.
The capital referendum, which is $410 million, would be used to support needed updates and improvements to district buildings.
“We have a number of very old buildings in our district,” said Johnson. “We’re a district, who has existed for a very long time, and some of our buildings are very much overdue for some improvement.”
“We want to make sure that our physical environments reflect the value we have for our students, they are in warm, and inspiring and inviting school environments,” she added.
The operating referendum includes $50 million annually over an 8-year term. Johnson said that money would go to helping expand services to students and ensuring competitive compensation for teachers and support staff.
Johnson said some of the expanded services include art, music and computer-science at the elementary level and experiences like foreign language, algebra and band at the middle-school level.
“Some of our schools offer that, but not all of our schools do,” Johnson said, “and so that operating referendum is really about supporting and expanding student experience, and supporting the teachers and staff, who actually allow that experience to happen.”
As far as the overall impact to taxpayers, Johnson said median homeowners in the district would see it as an additional $6 increase to their monthly property tax bill.
“When we went out to our community, a year ago, we asked what do you want for the future of our district,” said Johnson. “What we really heard was an opportunity for more of our students to have greater access to offerings and more experiences in their schools.”
“We believe our students are worth that investment. We believe that they deserve to be in warm, inviting learning environments, and we believe that they deserve to have the opportunities, that if you drive 20 miles in any direction, other students are getting access to,” said Johnson. “We are excited to be able to make this case to our community between now and May, when we would expect to be on the ballot.”
During Thursday’s board meeting, district leaders shared they planned to have two referendum hearings to discuss projects and costs in more detail. The first meeting is aiming to be as soon as mid or late November.
Pending board approval, which is slated to happen during a referendum determination hearing in December, the referendums are expected to be on the May 2023 ballot.
Some parents, like LaToya Hale-Tahirou, said they don’t mind spending the extra money, but only if the Rebuilding Stronger Plan is one they can support.
“Sacrificing a few more dollars for what I would like to see happen in IPS wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it would definitely have to be the right plan moving forward,” said Hale-Tahirou.
Hale-Tahirou, who is also a parent advocate with Stand for Children, said she’s planning to attend the referendum hearings, but still has concerns with the Rebuilding Stronger Plan.
“I commend IPS and Superintendent Johnson for all the equity and inclusion work that they have been doing. They have been doing some phenomenal things,” she said, “but specifically with this plan, I’m concerned because they’re proposing to grow schools that don’t show to close the achievement gap for Black and Brown students.”
The IPS board is expected to vote on a final version of the Rebuilding Stronger Plan on November 17th.