School closings

Broad Ripple, Arlington and Northwest could be closing. Here’s what happens next.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Update (July 10, 2017): This story has been updated to reflect new times for the board meetings, which will begin at 5:30pm.

The suspense has dissipated after Indianapolis Public Schools released a proposal Wednesday to close Broad Ripple, Arlington and Northwest high schools. Now what happens?

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee will discuss the plans for closing and reconfiguring high schools at a school board meeting tonight. But the board won’t vote on the proposal until this fall, and the schools won’t close until 2018-2019.

If the current proposal goes forward, the board will vote September 19. Ten days later, school staff will meet about personnel decisions. In October, the district will begin working with athletes transferring schools and seeking bids for the buildings it is selling. On June 7, 2018, Broad Ripple, Arlington and Northwest will hold their last day of school.

Although most board members appear to agree that the district must close schools, the plans aren’t set in stone. Over the next two months, the board will hear from parents, students and staff at each of the schools expected to close during its regular public meetings. Community members can sign up online to offer comments.

Here’s the schedule:

5:30 p.m. July 18
Broad Ripple High School
115 Broad Ripple Ave.

5:30 p.m. July 20
John Marshall High School
10101 E. 38th St.

5:30 p.m. August 29
Arlington High School
4825 N. Arlington Ave.

5:30 p.m. August 31
Northwest High School
5525 W. 34th St.

Teachers stiffed

Detroit charter school teachers get tough news: Their school was in debt so they won’t get paid

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Matchbook Learning CEO Sajan George notified teachers at the now-closed Michigan Technical Academy that they won't get their summer paychecks.

Furious teachers at a recently shuttered Detroit charter school were notified Wednesday that they won’t be paid thousands of dollars they earned during the last school year.

Teachers at the Michigan Technical Academy had contracts that required the school to pay them through the summer for work they did during the school year. But the school’s management company, Matchbook Learning, alerted teachers in an email Wednesday that the money would instead go to pay off the school’s debts.

“Last Friday, Matchbook Learning became aware that the holders of MTA’s outstanding bond debt are refusing to allow use of funds for any summer payroll and instead, are requiring that any available funds be used toward payment of the bond debt,” Matchbook’s CEO Sajan George told teachers in the email. “We are disappointed and deeply saddened by this development because this means funds will not be there for July or August payroll.”

The school, which Chalkbeat wrote about last fall, closed its doors forever last month when Central Michigan University revoked the school’s charter citing academic and financial difficulties.

The school was one seven Detroit area charter schools that closed this year including five that had been overseen by Central Michigan.

Matchbook Learning, which had been running the school since 2015, had a contract with the school’s board that expired on June 30, George wrote in the email to teachers.

“Matchbook Learning never received and does not expect to receive any funds from the MTA Board, CMU or the bondholders to fund payment of any July or August payroll — meaning Matchbook Learning is not in a position to make payment to you,” George wrote. “Unfortunately, the closing of MTA has had a severe effect on everyone involved. We thank you for your time at MTA, sympathize and empathize with your position, and wish you the best in your future endeavors.”

George told Chalkbeat that his New Jersey-based school management organization, a non-profit, hasn’t been paid by the school’s board since February due to lack of funds. Matchbook is owed what he characterized as “a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

He said he knew Matchbook wouldn’t be paid for the last few months of the school year but that the organization stayed until the last day of class in June.

“If we left, the employees wouldn’t get paid and the school would shut down,” George said.

He said Matchbook asked the school board to approve payments that would enable the teachers to get paid in July and August. The board knew it would receive payments from the state in July and August and authorized a portion of that money to go toward paying teachers. But the bondholders are priority creditors, meaning they get paid first. The bondholders have refused to allow money to go to the teachers, George said. 

“Ultimately it wasn’t in our control,” he said.

The school borrowed about $16 million for building improvements when it first opened and only about $1 million had been paid off when the school closed last month, George said. Had the school stayed open, it would have continued to receive money from the state that could have been used to make payments on the debt. Without money coming in, the creditors moved to collect as much as they could. 

Angry teachers say they’re contacting lawyers in hopes of trying to collect what they’re owed.

“That’s money that we’ve all worked for,” said Maeve Rochon, a kindergarten teacher who said she’s owed around $5,000. “That’s for time we spent in those kids’ lives, doing our jobs. We all stuck it out to the end and now you’re telling us the money we worked for, we’re not going to get?”

Janelle Brzezinski, a spokeswoman for the Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, said there’s not much the university can do to help the teachers.

“Some creditors of Michigan Technical Academy have ordered an acceleration of payments due on Academy loans,” Brzezinski wrote in an e-mailed statement. “The acceleration of payments means that the Academy received no funds from the scheduled July 20, 2017 state school aid payment sent by the state of Michigan. The Academy board and the Center had been working with the Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Department of Treasury officials to ensure continued flow of state aid through July and August to allow the Academy to meet payroll and other outstanding obligations. Unfortunately, the decision of the creditors to accelerate payments under the Academy loans means that there will not be sufficient funds for the Academy to process the July 31, 2017 scheduled payroll and there may not be sufficient funds to meet the August payrolls.”

Brzezinski encouraged teachers to contact Matchbook or the Wage and Hour Division of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

School closings

Marshall closing meeting draws tiny crowd, just two speakers

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Fewer than 20 people filled the seats of the John Marshall auditorium Thursday.

There was little sign of interest from the community at a public forum Thursday about closing John Marshall Middle School. Fewer than 20 people filled the seats of the auditorium of the beleaguered school, and the meeting ended less than seven minutes after it began.

“Seeing no one here, I think we are going to go ahead and adjoin to our regular business meeting,” said Indianapolis Public Schools board President Mary Ann Sullivan.

The board typically requires people to sign up to speak in advance, but for the second meeting in a row, Sullivan opened the floor to anyone.

There was just one speaker: Jerry Coverstone, who ran an unsuccessful independent campaign for state senate in 2016. Coverstone, who grew up in the neighborhood but attended a township high school, focused on Indiana’s private school voucher program.

“I look and see how the school voucher program is providing tax-funded money to private, religious-based schools, and then I turn around and I see our public schools closing down,” Coverstone said. “That bothers me.”

The meeting was one of several public forums the board is holding about a proposal to close Marshall and Broad Ripple High School and convert two other high schools to middle schools. The district voted last summer to convert Marshall, which had served grades 7-12, to a dedicated middle school this year. If the board approves the plan to close the school, the students will relocate to the Arlington campus.

The board will hold forums at 5:30 p.m. August 29 at Arlington High School and August 31 at Northwest High School.

One other commenter, Nathan Harris, arrived after the public forum ended but spoke during the regular board meeting. Harris, who graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, also spoke Tuesday at the meeting at Broad Ripple High School. That meeting drew close to 200 people and lasted about an hour and half, in stark contrast with the forum at Marshall.

Sullivan speculated that the meeting may have been smaller because the campus is already scheduled to convert to a middle school.

“It makes me sad,” she said. “I would like to think that all of our schools have been special places for someone.”