Outgoing Indy Mayor Ballard May Run Public School System

Within the next year, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard could be appointed boss of the School Board, coinciding with a decentralization of Indianapolis Public Schools. Under the new rules, schools will have an independence similar to what charters currently have — along with strict accountability to the mayor for performance, writes Russ Pulliam at the Indy Star.

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform organization led by David Harris, who was the city’s charter school czar during Bart Peterson’s administration, is studying IPS alternatives for the state Department of Education, which already is taking over four failing schools in the district.

A shift in oversight of IPS would have to be approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Mitch Daniels, but sources say a mayoral takeover of IPS could gain support from both parties in the General Assembly’s upcoming session.

“The pressure is on to do something. The train is leaving the station,” says Larry Grau, director of the Indiana chapter of Democrats for Education Reform.

“IPS is not going to fix itself. There are too many vested interests.

“If there was ever a climate to make changes, it is now,” he said. “You have the state taking over IPS schools. You have charters and vouchers.”

Charters in the state were expanded this year, allowing low-income parents to use state scholarships to send their children to private schools.

Almost 4,000 students around the state are now using school vouchers.

House Speaker, Brian Bosma:

“This is a very intriguing proposal, worthy of discussion, and may present an opportunity to move the district forward,” he said. “It would have to have bipartisan support. This can’t be for political expediency. It has to be the right solution for IPS.”

On the state Senate side, Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, describes himself as open minded about the idea.

“It has worked in several places — Washington, D.C., and New York City,” Kruse said.

“In a big city, everyone thinks the mayor is in charge of everything, but he is not in charge of the schools. Is this going to be good for students? That would be my bottom line.”

IPS Superintendent Eugene White is known to be keen on reducing the district’s central office staff. And if this proposal moves forward, White may have to decide if he wants a new boss — one mayor instead of a seven-member School Board.

Ballard also could have to decide whether he wants a new superintendent.