by Jim Grim
The Indianapolis Board of School Commissioners is scheduled to vote September 18 on a plan to move Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) to an “all-choice model” for the district’s high schools.
The school board is also expected to affirm the recommendation of an IPS Facilities Utilization Task Force this summer to close Broad Ripple High School in June 2018. The task force found that Broad Ripple was operating at 28% capacity, with a projected enrollment this fall of 666 students in a facility that could house 2,400.
Multiple public meetings this year preceded the recommendation that includes closing John Marshall Community High School (after it serves as a middle school this academic year) and converting Arlington and Northwest community high schools into middle schools in 2018. However, it appears Broad Ripple’s fate came down to its geography: each of the buildings recommended to cease operating as high schools are furthest from the heart of the city, and Broad Ripple’s unique location could potentially attract millions of dollars for property re-development.
‘A groundswell of emotion’
During the July 18 school board meeting at Broad Ripple High School, more than 30 individuals took up to three minutes each at the microphone and faced 16 IPS administrators and board commissioners lined up behind a row of tables across the entire performing arts auditorium stage.
Scott Jenkins, a member of the Midtown Indy board of directors, asked IPS to include the community in determining re-use of the site—and preferably to continue as a school. The property “has a strong set of bones for education,” Jenkins said. “Education is part of our economic development plans.”
Kent Springer, Broad Ripple High School Class of ’74, is the past president and a current board member of the Broad Ripple Village Association (BRVA). He presented the organization’s request that the facility continue to serve public educational purposes. “Maintaining a school within Village boundaries will increase resident retention and raise the profile of Broad Ripple among potential new residents moving to the Indianapolis area,” he said. (Read full BRVA statement below.)
Midtown resident Kelly Bentley is an IPS school board commissioner. “The past month has seen a groundswell of emotion regarding Broad Ripple High School—and I want all of you to know that when it comes to the joy and pride of being a Broad Ripple student and parent, I share every word and every sentiment and every emotion,” she said. “I do not minimize at all—not for one minute—the love many people feel for the school and the memories we all hold so dear.”
She continued: “In my role as commissioner, however, I must put the interests of the entire district ahead of everything else. Empathy and sympathy have their place, but fiduciary responsibility must come first.” She added, “We must use our scarce resources to support the education of the students we have rather than buildings we don’t need.”
Beginning in 2018–19, IPS plans for all high school students to choose a school to attend based on 45 proposed career academies—schools to be added to existing “choice options.” Broad Ripple visual and performing arts programs, for example, along with entertainment management and communications, will move to Shortridge and join International Baccalaureate and humanities programs there.
Other proposed programs:
Arsenal Technical High School
- construction, engineering and design
- military academy
- math and science
- law and public policy
- New Tech High
- the existing career technology center
Crispus Attucks High School
- health and science
- teaching, learning, and leading academies
George Washington Community High School
- manufacturing, engineering, and logistics
- business and finance academies
“While closing Broad Ripple is a very difficult and personal decision for me, and one I am very emotional about, I am optimistic about moving the humanities and arts programs at Broad Ripple High School to Shortridge,” Bentley says. “The Midtown neighborhoods might be losing one of their high schools, but they aren’t losing any high school programs. With the strong leadership and teaching at Shortridge, I feel confident the transition of these programs—and redesign—will benefit the current Broad Ripple High School students and boost the number of Midtown families choosing to stay in IPS for high school.”
IPS reports about 5,000 students today attend the seven high schools that have capacity for 15,000 total enrollment. The Task Force reported that reducing three of the buildings for high school will save millions of dollars in operations and transportation costs, freeing up about $4 million annually that could support the choice model career academies. Reinventing IPS High Schools Report PDF
The Task Force reports that IPS experienced a peak enrollment of about 109,000 students in 1967 (myips.org/facilitiestaskforce). IPS Report PDF Over the next 50 years, multiple factors contributed to enrollment decreases, resulting in about 30,000 students today. Meanwhile, IPS has closed multiple elementary and middle school buildings but only one of the 10 high schools that operated during peak enrollment in 1967. (The district opened an 11th high school, Northwest, in 1968.)
IPS enrollment has followed the population decline in Center Township, the Task Force notes. IPS lost 42,574 students from just before the federal desegregation order in 1970 until IPS began busing in 1981, a decrease of 40 percent enrollment. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, IPS lost an additional 25,000 students, coinciding with a decline in Center Township’s population. In the 2000s, the growth of charter schools and dramatic population increase in surrounding counties drove IPS enrollment down further, by about 10,000 students.
Now, the Broad Ripple property, according to the Task Force report, could be sold for $6 million to $8 million, a one-time boost to district finances that have experienced expenses higher than annual revenue the past three years. In contrast, one speaker July 18 noted IPS had spent $9.2 million in renovations to BRHS only a decade ago.
Board President Mary Ann Sullivan ended the BRHS meeting by thanking everyone for attending. “I can assure you we are listening to what you have to say,” she added. “Your voice will impact how we move forward with these difficult decisions.”
Jim Grim, director of university/community school partnerships at IUPUI, has lived in Midtown for 30 years. He has been widely published and specializes in education and community engagement topics.
The BRVA communicated its position at the IPS board of school commissioners meeting, which was held at Broad Ripple Magnet High School on Tuesday, July 18, 2017.
Three reasons why Broad Ripple High School should remain an education-based facility
On June 28, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) announced its plans to close three local high schools, including Broad Ripple Magnet High School for the Arts and Humanities. While the Broad Ripple Village Association (BRVA) understands the IPS recommendation to close BRHS, we believe that as the district and its board evaluate options for future use of the school property, it is essential that the facility continues to be used for public education purposes.
1) Broad Ripple possesses a long-standing tradition of neighborhood schools, and it is imperative for area residents to have public school options for their children.
Broad Ripple High School was first established in 1886 and became IPS’ fourth high school in 1923. It has provided a sense of identity and community for more than 130 years. A number of Broad Ripple High School alumni have stayed in or returned to the village to shape the community and grow its businesses.
Former Indiana Pacer and Broad Ripple High School alumnus George Hill sent a Tweet immediately after the closing was announced asking for investors to help bring the school back. Hill and other alumni consistently mention their deep connection to the Broad Ripple community stemming from their time in school. Such bonds provide the roots for a community’s continued growth.
2) Maintaining a high school within village boundaries will increase resident retention and raise the profile of Broad Ripple among potential new residents moving to the Indianapolis area.
Yes, boutiques and coffee shops are wonderful amenities, but schools are often the primary decision factor for families choosing a home or neighborhood. Given the desirable location of the facility, surrounded by several amazing arts and cultural organizations, the opportunities for unique collaboration are endless.
Broad Ripple is certainly one of Indianapolis’ best community success stories. For more than a century, the neighborhood has thrived while constantly evolving to best serve the needs of residents. However, without a viable, neighborhood-based high school, Broad Ripple’s long-lasting community development and sustainability are unachievable.
3) The school building is an essential part of Broad Ripple’s infrastructure and must serve as a hub for learning and community growth.
It is particularly important to preserve this facility as a hub for education, art and community. Such uses are not profit-bearing ventures and speak to the character and true essence of Broad Ripple. Throughout its 130-year existence, Broad Ripple High School has opened its doors to the community and invited it in for special events, performances, sporting events and community gathering.
If the building is sold to a private developer, no such facility will be built in its place to ensure these important community activities have a continued home. Maintaining a high school in Broad Ripple creates a diverse mix of educational, business and entertainment offerings throughout the village.
Finally, the BRVA believes strongly in community input and involvement throughout this process. We’ve heard others call for a community task force to be formed and are very supportive of that idea. Open communication and meaningful collaboration will lead to the best solution for all involved.
The BRVA has scheduled an open house from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24th at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 6050 N. Meridian, to collect input from Broad Ripple residents about potential reuse of the property.