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Perry Township Schools unanimously approves redistricting plan eliminating school choice

UPDATE: Perry Township Schools Superintendent Patrick Mapes will retire effective June 30, 2023, the school district said Tuesday. Mapes will finish out the current school year. The school district says it is already searching for its next superintendent.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In its regular board meeting Monday night, the Perry Township school district voted on its redistricting plan to combat its bus driver shortage.

Perry Township Schools originally presented four models for redistricting, about which families were invited to provide feedback:

  • Model 1: Establish new elementary school boundaries, end the Perry Township School Choice program, and require all students to attend their newly assigned schools.
  • Model 2: Establish new elementary school boundaries, end the Perry Township School Choice program, and allow intra-district transfers based on annual school and grade-level capacity. All transfer students must provide their own transportation.
  • Model 3: Keep current boundaries for all elementary schools, continue the Perry Township School Choice program, but end bus transportation for school choice students.
  • Model 4: Establish new elementary school boundaries, end the current Perry Township School Choice program, but allow limited school choice within smaller zones based on kindergarten academies. All school choice students must provide their own transportation.

The board unanimously voted for Model 2, which will establish new elementary school boundaries and end the Perry Township School Choice program.

Emotions were high after families spoke against the redistricting plan but ultimately didn’t feel heard by the district.

One parent yelled out after the vote, “Not one of you can say you care about our kids. What a joke. Not one!” before exiting the meeting with her child.

Eleven people signed up to speak to the board, with 10 families speaking against the redistricting plan and the elimination of school choice.

“Please! Keep choice! Find a way to fix this that does not hurt me and my friends,” said 8-year-old Leanor Formo, who says cancer kept her away from being in her school before. She says doesn’t want redistricting to keep her away now.

“When I had cancer, I thought I was going to die and never get to do the really cool stuff that my big sister did in third, fourth, and fifth grade at Rosa Parks. Looking forward to those things help me fight and stay strong,” Formo said.

Superintendent Patrick Mapes says families who want to stay with their current school will have to fill out an intra-district application. If a student is in good standing and their parents can provide transportation, they would be considered first for available slots within the boundary.

“After hearing the public comment, they wanted to give students who were currently in the Choice Program a priority through an intra-district transfer program. So, otherwise, we would just take anyone who wanted to transfer and provide their own transportation, and we would just take those and put them in a lottery and pull out names and those would be the kids who would get to go there,” Mapes said.

Applications for the intra-district transfer program will not begin until February after administrative guidelines have been brought to the board outlining the priorities and application process. The board will have to approve that and then they can look at the sections/vacancies they have.

Mapes acknowledges that some kids won’t get to stay in their current schools because their parents won’t be able to provide transportation, and some kids won’t get to stay in the same school because the school is over capacity.

“We have to fix out transportation problem and we truly feel that this will fix out transportation. As we get through the weeds a little later with the routes, we think we’ll be able to get somewhere around 30 routes back, and that will allow us to get kids home on time, which is currently something we cannot do,” Mapes said.

The district is still trying to hire bus drivers. It currently has 42 positions to fill transportation, including substitute drivers.

“I think now we’ll have an intra-district transfer policy that will remain in place and I don’t see us ever driving the miles we currently do to do choice that has been done for Perry Township,” Mapes said.

In the meantime, the district will focus on communicating with district families about how the redistricting plan will work. About 2,300 students will be impacted when the plan goes into effect starting with the 2023-24 school year.

The next school board meeting is set for Jan. 9, 2023.