Five turnaround academies might have to close their doors if they don't retain federal grants

State Board, Ritz at odds over priorities

INDIANAPOLIS - Questions were raised Tuesday about whether five formerly failing Indiana schools will continue to get a second chance.  

The private firms operating them said doubts about renewal of  government grant money they desperately need could force some of them to throw in the towel. 

Operators of turnaround academies like Arlington High School said their first year was a big success.

But they're seriously questioning whether they can continue on into a second year.

The problem is money, the millions of dollars in School Improvement Grants that come from the federal government but are administered by the state.

The turnaround schools got the money last year under former State Superintendent Tony Bennett, but they have received no assurances of getting it under his successor, Glenda Ritz, who opposes public school takeovers.

The CEO of EdPower, which operates Arlington, Marcus Robinson, said turnaround schools' expenses mean they need that grant money in addition to the normal state subsidy.

He didn't directly say EdPower might walk away from Arlington if the grant doesn't come, but he came close.

"We love the kids in this building. They're very much a part of our hearts, very much ingratiated in our work. But ultimately, if we can't get this grant, we can't afford to do the work," he said.

Several critics on the state school board question whether Ritz is as committed to the turnaround schools as Bennett. 

Dan Elsener, who also serves as President of Marian University, said last year turnaround schools got a strong message of support.

"And they didn't get that clear message this year. And I wish they would have. And now the message is coming out loud and clear. Also, we've got to make sure the paperwork and everything moves in a timely fashion. The board yesterday at its meeting, its June meeting, made it very, very clear...this strategic priority cannot be messed with. Too many students' lives and neighborhoods that have been struggling for years are depending on it. We have to come through," Elsener said.

Ritz issued a statement saying that she will work to fairly fund all Indiana schools and saying that she recognizes that the turnaround schools are the board's priorities. 

However, she noticeably left out saying whether they are her priorities.

Three turnaround firms are currently operating Indiana schools.

They include Arlington, Manual, and Howe high schools, Donnan Middle School and a school in Gary.

Follow Norman Cox on Twitter: @normancox6


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