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Indy schools seek records on state takeovers

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TOM LoBIANCO,

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis Public Schools leaders filed a public records request Thursday seeking information on the 2011 takeover of four schools amid questions about the integrity of the state's A-F school grading formula.

IPS Board of Commissioners President Diane Arnold called for a review of the decisions that led the state to give control of the schools to charter operators after they were consistently found to be "failing."

"The accountability system is supposed to be transparent," Arnold said in a statement. "It is in the best interest of our students and their families for all of the facts surrounding the school takeovers to be disclosed to the public and reviewed in the light of day."

The grading system has been under fire since The Associated Press published emails last month showing former schools chief Tony Bennett oversaw changes to the formula to ensure a top Republican donor's school received an 'A'. Bennett subsequently resigned as Florida's education commissioner.

Local school leaders who complained of secrecy in the Bennett administration over the school grades before the emails were released have since said the grades issued last year should be deemed invalid. Fort Wayne Community School Corp. voted 6-1 Monday to support a resolution from Democrat Mark GiaQuinta refusing to recognize the state's school grading system.

Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday said he was standing by the state's school-grading system and would not consider calls to suspend the grades for a year. He blamed the media for "anxiety" over the school grades.

"I understand the anxiety that's been created over allegations that have been reported in the press and questions that have been raised around email communications," he said Thursday. "We're going to get to the bottom of the accusations that have been raised."

Bennett took control of four Indianapolis schools in 2011, after years of poor test scores and graduation rates. He cited Indiana's school takeover law, passed a dozen years earlier by Indiana Democrats, in saying it was time to give control of the schools to charter school groups.

An Indianapolis charter school group won one of the contracts from the state. Charter Schools USA, whose president has donated to Bennett and hired Bennett's wife earlier this year, won the contracts for the three other Indianapolis schools.

IPS officials pointed out earlier this month that if Bennett had shown the schools the same deference he gave Christel House Academy, a charter school founded by donor Christel DeHaan, they would have been taken off the state's takeover list. But Bennett said at the time that showing any flexibility in how the school grades were calculated would undercut the entire system.

 

Posted 8/15/2013