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Columbus International School considering closing


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Paul Minnis for The Republic / International School of Columbus, located at 3136 N. National Road, is experiencing significant financial challenges that could result in its closing as early as this week.
Paul Minnis for The Republic / International School of Columbus, located at 3136 N. National Road, is experiencing significant financial challenges that could result in its closing as early as this week.


More than 100 students and parents learned Monday night that the four-year-old International School of Columbus will close Friday unless it can raise $250,000 by then.

School Board President Rich Wagner said during a tense and emotional meeting that unexpected costs at the school’s planned new building, coupled with declining state funds because of a drop in enrollment and poor results from fundraising, have forced the board’s hand.

Some parents told Wagner and Head of School Jonah Sims they were disappointed and displeased with how poorly the school communicated its financial situation.

However, some parents were moved to tears as they thanked the administrators, staff and the teachers for the work they had done.

Parent Sarah Jameel thanked the teachers and administrators before she was overcome with emotion, holding one hand over her mouth, while a nearby student held her other hand.

Jameel, who has daughters in eighth and ninth grades at the school, said after the meeting that she was shocked when she heard the school planned to close.

She said that when she moved here from Minneapolis, two years ago, she worried about her daughters, who are both Muslim, being exposed to bigotry in public schools.

At the International School, both daughters did well, because it embraces a diverse student population, Jameel said.

Students, too, reacted with emotional pleas to find a way to keep their school open.

International School of Columbus timeline

2005: Parents and grandparents begin exploring another educational choice for students in Columbus.

December 2008: Received charter from Ball State University

August 2009: International School of Columbus opens for students in Grades 7-9.

Feb. 26, 2013: Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals approves rezoning of former church at 51 N. Brooks St., allowing the International School to use the building for its new school facility.

May: First class of seniors graduates.

Aug. 1: Planned school year start date for International School at Brooks Street location

Aug. 19: School opens at its original 3136 N. National Road location after delays with the new building.

September: Head of School Jonah Sims announces resignation, effective Nov. 15.

Monday: School officials meet with parents to discuss financial problems and the possibility of the school closing.

Wednesday: ISC school board will meet at 5:30 p.m. at the National Road location to decide whether to stay open.

Two said they were close to suicide at their old schools, and that their lives changed for the better after they enrolled at the International School.

Senior Taylor Compton was visibly upset as she sat in the last row of the school’s cafeteria.

“It’s awful,” she said after the meeting. “I wish it wasn’t happening, especially right now.”

Parent Michelle Copple said her special-needs stepson Michael Huber, 20, who is deaf, had made more progress at ISC than at any other school he has attended.

Copple said that when Huber came home from other schools, he would talk about witnessing other students kicking and hitting one another.

At ISC, however, “he’s happy,” Copple said.

Copple said she, too, does not know where to send Huber now that ISC appears to be closing.

MULTIPLE CHALLENGES

The charter school, two months into its fifth year, is currently serving 116 students in Grades 7-12.

“It’s extremely bleak in terms of having grants and donations come in to keep operations going without student growth,” Wagner said.

A decision on the school’s fate is expected when the school board meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the school, 3136 N. National Road.

If the school closes Friday, students will have to find a new school quickly. The International School has been in contact with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. about students transferring into the district.

Closure would mean 13 teachers and four staff members would lose their jobs, Wagner said.

BCSC Superintendent John Quick said the corporation could absorb the extra students without any problems, as they would account for about 1 percent of the district’s11,000 enrollment.

Quick said he already has met with ISC officials to discuss a possible transition.

He said ICS’s population includes about 60 high school students, 31 eighth-graders and 19 seventh-graders.

BSCS READY

Quick also said that BCSC can absorb the additional students with few expenses. He said the district might have to hire an additional language teacher for the middle schools.

“This won’t be a financial burden for BCSC,” Quick said.

He said BCSC already has received calls to request students be able to meet with guidance counselors to figure out the most appropriate schools and learning pathways.

“We can absorb those students ... and find good pathways,” Quick said.

International School of Columbus, which received its charter from Ball State University, teaches the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which focuses on English, Spanish, social studies, philosophy, science, math and the arts. Graduates automatically qualify for the state’s honors diploma.

The school has been operating on an annual budget of about $1 million, with donations and grants covering $200,000 to $250,000, Wagner said.

School officials had hoped to raise $50,000 in new donations by this stage of the new school year, but have raised only $18,000, Wagner said. Also, the school has been unable to secure any new grants, he said.

Some people who have donated previously have said they are unable to donate this year, Wagner said.

As a result, the school eliminated one English teacher and cut back on books, utilizing more online resources to save money, Wagner said.

GROWTH PLAN

School officials and board members embraced a plan of growth at the end of the 2012-13 school year, when they had about 130 students and its first class of seniors graduated in May.

The International School entered into a lease-to-purchase agreement with The Ridge for its former church facility at 51 N. Brooks St., which would have tripled the space of its current home, Wagner said.

The extra room was needed because enrollment was projected to be 170 this year, and the school had plans for growing enrollment to about 220, he said.

However, enrollment was 121 in mid-September and has since dropped to 116, Wagner said.

School officials expected a class of 40 to 50 seventh-graders, but the school actually has about 20, Wagner said.

The drop in enrollment means less money for the school, which is reimbursed about $5,500 per student from the Indiana Department of Education.

Unlike other public schools, charter schools are not reimbursed for transportation or maintenance costs. Donations and grants cover those expenses, Wagner said.

The school needs 220 or more students to reach a point where it relies a lot less on grants and donations to operate, Wagner said. But to accommodate that student population, a larger school is needed.

RENOVATION OVERRUNS

School officials planned to begin the new school year in the Brooks Street building. However, renovations hit snags and increased projected costs. When the Department of Homeland Security said a sprinkler system would be needed throughout the entire building, that raised the cost $150,000 alone, Wagner said.

About $150,000 has been spent so far on renovation costs, and about more $300,000 is needed to finish the job, including the sprinkler project, Wagner said.

Because of the renovation issues, the school opened three weeks later than planned — at its original location.

In late September, Sims announced that he was resigning, effective Nov. 15, so he could spend more time with his family.

The Ridge has agreed to defer the lease to next year, which is saving the school about $5,000 per month, but it is still leasing its National Road building for about $10,000 per month, Wagner said.

School officials have been trying to secure a $2 million, four-year loan from private and public foundations to cover needed renovation costs and keep the school going while enrollment grew, but have been told that their request was too large, Wagner said.

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