NOTE: A small section of this article originally mistook the KIPP Indy school with KIPP’s school in Gary. This has been corrected.
UPDATE: As this Doug Martin story broke, word came down that a federal judge ruled in favor of the mayor’s decision to close The Project School. Additionally, Jason Kloth is getting a pay-raise. He now will make $120, 000 yearly for spreading the Teach for America-Ballard-Peterson-Harris-Walmart-Gates-Lilly-Stand for Children-Mind Trust corporate school agenda throughout Indianapolis.
In the review of KIPP Indy late last year, mayor Ballard had no problem renewing the school’s charter, even though the school has a sordid history of lousy tests schools, an ungodly high dropout rate, and serious financial issues.
This is not surprising. Corporate schoolers invaded KIPP Indy long ago, just about the time the mayor’s deputy director, Jason Kloth, chaired the charter school’s board.
The official corporate school narrative is that sometime in 2008 Kloth hired two of his comrades from Teach for America, Emily Pelino and Aleesia Johnson, to lead the school out of its financial and testing mess. Although no 990s from 2008-2009 mention TFAer Kloth as KIPP Indy’s chair, hedge fund manager and Democrats for Education Reform’s front-man Whitney Tilson posted an email from Patrick O’Donnell, another TFAer, mentioning Kloth’s brilliance, just after mayor Ballard chose Kloth to be his henchman this year. In part, the email reads:
Jason was the KIPP: Indy board chair a few years back who reconstituted the entire board and staff, brought in Emily Pelino and Aleesia Johnson as the school leaders, and brought in 2/3 of the teachers (over 80% of staff is now TFA CMs/alums actually). The school has since had some of the most significant student achievement growth in the state and is poised to expand with a great executive director. All of this wouldn’t have happened without Jason. Great stuff!
Great stuff, indeed. Stuff that myths are made of; and of course, KIPP Indy financially supports Teach for America. Then there’s the IDOE/Mind Trust connections to consider. Democrat for Education Reform Indy’s Mindy Schlegel, senior advisor for teacher quality at the Indiana Department of Education, sits on the board of directors at Indianapolis KIPP, along with former Mind Trust’s Claire Fiddian-Green, who now approves charter schools for the state.
WHAT STATE AUDITORS SAY
Despite the clapping of corporate school reformers, not much has changed since 2008, when KIPP Indy used “$8,000 in Title I funding that had been improperly used on items ranging from teacher salaries to spa services at a professional development retreat.” From 2005-2009, in fact, KIPP Indy made yearly progress only once (6). It took them several years to show anything that could remotely be considered so-called progress, something that Ballard has ignored, especially since he wants to nail up The Project School after only four years.
Financially, the KIPP school in Gary in 2008, too, was in shambles, and it appears to still be. Witness the State Board of Accounts audit, which covers July 2009 to June 2011, in which auditors noted that KIPP claims lacked supporting documentation on several items, too, and the school paid penalties, late fees, and finance charges, all adamantly discouraged by auditors. For these problems, auditors wrote that: “Officials and employees have the duty to pay claims and remit taxes in a timely fashion. Failure to pay claims or remit taxes in a timely manner could be an indicator of serious financial problems which should be investigated by the governmental unit” (23).
In 2009-2010, according to the State Board of Accounts, KIPP–run by American Quality Schools–did not even keep verified applications for the school food Verification Report, so auditors couldn’t determine if procedure was followed or not. In 2010-2011, auditors said that, due to problems in verification of school lunches, KIPP should “request a written position from the Indiana Department of Education stating whether the corrective action taken was sufficient or if additional verifications need to be performed when high incidences of errors in test sample verifications are noted” (24).
But it doesn’t stop there. An official bond for the school was not even filed in the County Recorder’s office or given over to audit. This same violation was noted in an earlier report of the school (24).
Auditors also found that several different people were running school credit cards over a five month period, and that for 23 instances, no receipts could be found. This problem, too, was highlighted in an earlier audit (25).
All in all, internal controls were so seriously lacking at the school that auditors noticed an environment that could easily lead to fraud. The auditors claimed that the “Director of Finance and Administration handles the daily collections, issues receipts, prepares bank deposits, takes deposit to the bank, and handles student billings and postings on accounts” (26).
As for the school’s paying system, the auditors said this:
Offers to employees are signed only by the School Leader and the Employee without the signature of a board member representative. There was no other form of documentation presented for audit which documented the board’s approval of the rate of pay, such as contracts.
Additionally, sufficient documentation was not available to support changes to the rate of pay that occurred during the audit period. One employee agreed to a decrease in hours worked and a decrease in pay, however, the only documentation to support the change in the rate of pay was a payroll change memo to the bookkeeping firm. In addition, one employee appeared to have a pay offer for the 08/09 year that overlapped with the pay offer for the 09/10 year making it difficult to determine the approved rate for the overlapping period.
Lastly, some employees are paid hourly rates for homebound education. There is no documentation of board approval of the hourly rates paid to these employees. (27)
KIDS FLOCK TO TPS; THEY DROP FROM THE SKY AT KIPP INDY
Oddly, the mayor’s office calls out The Project School for not meeting target enrollments, even though the school has grown constantly since it was founded. In 2008-2009, the enrollment was 167; in 2009-2010, 181; in 2010-2011; 268, and in 2011-2012, 311 (11). Parents, also, overwhelmingly support TPS, though the mayor ignores the parents’ surveys his office has done.
If one looks at KIPP Indy’s enrollment, the dropout rate is shocking. As Jim Horn noticed in August 2011, basing his criticism on the October 2010 report on KIPP Indy from Ballard’s own office,
“KIPP Indianapolis has been consistently under-enrolled during the past four years. The school’s attendance rate has fallen below the target established by the IDOE for the past two academic years. The school’s retention rate was above or near 70% for the first three years, but dropped each year since, reaching only 33.3% this past year. Accordingly, the school receives a Does Not Meet Standard for this indicator.”
TPS attendance has never dropped below 94%, and the school’s retention rate now stands at almost 73% (12), better than KIPP Indy’s in KIPP Indy’s best days.
In the mayor’s KIPP Indy renewal report, the mayor’s office didn’t even bother to rank the school on two performance indicators in question 1.
At the end of his harsh analysis, Horn, an education professor, asks what the mayor of Indy plans “to do about it.” The answer for the mayor, we knew all along, was to do nothing. Ballard likes to let the corporate school movers do what they please.
All page numbers refer to in-text pages, not the pages found in PDF boxes.