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STORM TRACKING

Panel: Indianapolis should close 3 of 7 public high schools

Published: Saturday, April 15, 2017 @ 11:23 AM
Updated: Saturday, April 15, 2017 @ 11:22 AM

An Indianapolis Public Schools task force has recommended closing three of the district's seven high schools because of declining enrollments, due primarily to a loss of population in the city's urban core and competition from other schools.

The closures could save about $4 million a year, money the district could redirect toward student services, teacher pay and other needs, the task force said in a report released Friday evening.

The city's economy and housing continues to grow within the district's boundaries, but population and enrollment data show the district will not need to operate more than four high schools in the next decade, the report said.

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The district once was the state's largest, reaching peak enrollment in 1967, with nearly 109,000 students, including 26,000 of high school age. The district currently enrolls about 30,000 students and is projected to have only about 5,300 students in high school in the coming 2017-18 school year.

Most of the district lies in Center Township, where the population has fallen by 194,424 since 1950 while the population of the surrounding townships more than tripled. The report also cites enrollment growth at charter schools and at private schools, which have benefited from Indiana's voucher program. One of the nation's largest, the program enables parents to use public funds to send their children to non-public schools.

Task force members said the district needs only two high schools for the number of students it has, but Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said academic opportunities and student travel times also must be considered.

"We want to ensure students don't have a one-hour bus drive in the morning. There are special programs that require special use of space that we have to think about," Ferebee said.

Ferebee said it's too early to identify which schools would close. IPS officials will hold community forums beginning this month to receive input from parents, students and alumni. A final recommendation to the school board is expected in September.

The IPS Facilities Utilization Task Force created last September has 16 members, eight from IPS and eight external members. They're tasked with considering factors including academic models, building utilization rates, reuse of buildings, utility and operating costs and transportation costs.