Indiana's foray into school takeovers continues to be fraught with confusion, bickering and accusations of dirty tricks.
But the latest back-and-forth involving Indianapolis Public Schools, the Indiana Department of Education and the two private operators hired by the state to take over four IPS schools has taken things to a new level.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett thinks IPS' lack of cooperation with the turnover operators is such that it could warrant withholding state money from the district.No, that's not the funny part, but it does explain the eagerness of the General Assembly, and the Daniels administration, to have the state take over funding of public education a few years back.
In short, it's a mess -- and one created, at least in part, by the lack of any strict rules in Indiana governing what is an unprecedented process in the state: transferring schools from a school district to private operators.
"Our goal was to be as flexible as we could be," said Stephanie Sample, a spokeswoman for Bennett's office. "We've never done this before, and the law is ambiguous."No, that's not it, either, although it is funny, in a "Well, who th' fuck wrote the law, and who enacted it in such a big fucking hurry so they'd have time to throw around the repercussions and the largess on their watch?" sorta way. Not to mention the fact that Bennett has had a little difficulty previously following black letter law. Leave us just mention that the "flexibility" Bennett was looking for in this case was his opponents', and it involved the ease with which they could grab their ankles.
Bennett and the private operators, as well as some others, contend that IPS is taking full advantage of those ambiguities -- and not always in the best interest of students. Almost since the outset, the operators -- Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA and local nonprofit EdPower -- have complained that IPS has withheld information such as student disciplinary records and contact information, recruited current students to transfer to other IPS schools and mischaracterized the private operators' programs.Funny, really, since all of them have had nothing but good things to say about the public schools. But not funny ha-ha.
This was supposed to be a transition year, Sample said, in which the takeover organizations spent time at the schools, evaluating the staff, getting to know the community.
"Unfortunately, it turned into a situation where (the operators) have to fight for everything they need," Sample said. "It allows the district some flexibility to obstruct instead of allowing the turnaround school operators and the community to adjust."The legal doctrine established by S'pose ta Be v. Kiss My Ass, pure comedy gold. But that's not it.
It's to a point, Bennett said, that he is ready to order that the district follow the rules or face sanctions, which could include withholding state money.
"The state board will act if the requirement to provide for children is not met by IPS," he said. "Our interest is never litigation; it's education. I hope IPS has the same attitude."
Sample, however, declined to say whether IPS is considered out of compliance with any state law or how the state will respond if it is.
"It's not in our best interest," she said, "to share our legal strategy to adversaries who are working to obstruct the process."Concern for students being so six paragraphs ago.
After the April 4 state board meeting, an incensed White sent a four-page letter disputing complaints aired about the district to the board. He has since followed with a letter from an IPS attorney demanding explanations for 11 specific charges made against IPS in the state board meeting.
White said the state board hasn't heard the whole truth, and he aims to set the record straight Wednesday when the board meets again.
"I think the state board is getting bad information," he said.
More broadly, IPS' main contention is that it is now officially in competition with the takeover operators -- both of whom have announced plans to open new charter schools in the community, as well -- and feels no obligation to benefit them.
White said, given those circumstances, that the district has only been practical and that it must protect its competitive interests, such as the contact information for elementary school families.There ya go. Who's been goin' on about the sacred benefits of Competition for the last three decades? And, look, I have very little use for Eugene "Cufflinks" White; he spent five years burnishing his personal image, which anyone who'd paid the slightest attention to his career could have predicted. It's taken him until about a month ago to notice that his district is the second poorest in the state; when he ascends that pulpit he's so comfortable in to denounce the selective disenfranchisement of the IPS voter--the same people Lugar disenfranchised forty-five years ago--I'll let you know. But: Competition! though it probably won't be a winning hand--although there's not much left of IPS to take away, and then the state and its profiteering and "not for" profiteering pals will have to actually work miracles, not just demand them of some voting group they don't like--but it is, somehow, the single work of political genius this state has seen since Wendell Willkie decided to keep his mouth shut in 1940.