That sound you heard Wednesday? That was the sound of the Indiana
Charter School Board rubber-stamping a real estate deal to benefit a
politically connected Fort Wayne business owner.
How else to explain a 5-1 vote to "replicate" an unproven
school that has drawn few students in Indianapolis and met strong resistance
from the Fort Wayne community during a public hearing held just 7 business days
after local school officials and were notified? The application was approved
less than 24 hours after the hearing.
Daryle Doden's Ambassador Enterprises has been looking to draw a
charter school tenant to The Summit, its education center at the former Taylor
University campus, for more than a year. Another charter school applicant, Sun
Academy, proposed leasing space there in a charter school application last
year, but withdrew its bid. (Sun Academy has submitted a letter of intent to
offer another application this spring, along with Global Village International
Inc., so as many as three new charter schools could be opening in Fort Wayne
Doden is the father of Eric Doden, a former GOP candidate for mayor
and Gov. Mike Pence's newly appointed director for statewide economic
development. Daryle Doden and his wife contributed $15,500 to Pence's campaign.
Daryle Doden's company will be paid $1,000 per student up to 550 students, plus
"associated property costs", for providing space for Carpe Diem
Claire Fiddian-Green, a former Eli Lilly executive who is now
executive director of the state charter board, justified the quick vote on the
proposal as part of the "mini application" process required under the
board's rules to replicate the charter model in another community -- one in
which it was not originally proposed. She said Wednesday the Fort Wayne community
is in "tumult."
That's apparently because the community doesn't view the Carpe Diem
deal as the great educational opportunity the school's founder tried to sell at
Monday's hearing. In fact, testimony at the hearing showed the community knows
exactly what the deal is – hundreds of thousands of dollars being sucked out of
area school districts as rent paid to Ambassador Enterprises.
To help sell the plan, Carpe Diem officials drove nearly a dozen
students round-trip from their Indianapolis building on an icy, wet school
night to tell a skeptical crowd how much they love their school.
"We're not IPS," the Fort Wayne audience responded.
The so-called school reform crowd backing charter-school expansion
insists there should be no excuses for public schools to improve, but they
offer plenty of excuses themselves.
Carpe Diem Meridian drew just 87 students last fall, but the reformers
insist it was because of problems finding a location. While the reformers wield
standardized test scores as a club to punish traditional public schools, they
have none to show for Carpe Diem Meridian. The charter board rushed through the
application before students there have taken the standardized state tests.
Jamie Garwood, appointed to the state charter board by President Pro
Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, voted for the new Fort Wayne school. In an
interview after the hearing, she quickly dismissed the strong opposition as
limited to FWCS teachers and administrators.
"The general public doesn't really know a lot about this,"
Garwood said. "They didn't really know a lot about the proposal. I think
the general public in Fort Wayne still doesn't really have a handle on what
charter schools are, or what the options are, or what a high-performing charter
is, or what they look like or how do we, as consumers, find that."
If the Fort Wayne community doesn't know enough about charter schools
after more than a decade of hosting them, it apparently should trust Garwood
and others to make the decisions about opening them here.
Because of its location, the new school will draw primarily from Fort
Wayne Community Schools and East Allen County Schools. But it could also draw
students from Southwest Allen, Northwest Allen, Northern Wells, Huntington and
Whitley counties, and more. Its online focus and a Monday through Thursday
school schedule will inevitably attract some students.
Ambassador Enterprises' proposed contract puts it in the unique
position of serving not only as landlord, but also in marketing the school. The
more students it draws, the more it collects in rent, given the $1,000 per-head
But each student it draws from a northeast Indiana school means
thousands of dollars pulled from an existing school. The loss reduces the
ability of the existing schools to offer comprehensive programs – well-stocked
libraries, guidance counselors, science labs, drama and music, sports programs
and more. Carpe Diem's computer instruction model includes none of those
features. The Indianapolis school has only five teachers for grades 6-10. Its
Arizona school at one time had one math teacher for 240 students in grades
Garwood is correct that people don't really understand charter
schools. The reformers have cleverly marketed them as philanthropic or
nonprofit endeavors. All are supported almost entirely by taxpayers, with money
pulled from existing schools. When traditional schools are closed, as Elmhurst
High School was two years ago, the frustrated supporters never seem to grasp
the connection between the growing number of new charter schools and the loss
of financial support for established districts.
The legislation that created the Indiana Charter School Board two
years ago received only one Democratic vote – from Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan, a
self-proclaimed education reformer. That's because school reform is about
politics, not students.
All of northeast Indiana's GOP delegation voted to approve the state
board, a poorly disguised end-run around the stricter standards now being used
by Ball State Universityand the Indianapolis mayor's office in their
authorization reviews. Those northeast Indiana lawmakers, Sen. David Long
included, should explain to their local school districts why it was a good
The ALEC-backed "parent trigger" bill proposed this session
is the companion piece to the legislation. It allows charter supporters to
collect signatures from parents in demanding a school takeover.
reformers won GOP support by promising lawmakers that charter schools would be
restricted mostly to IPS and Gary. But Fort Wayne's experience this week should
make them all very nervous. If a well-connected property owner wants to tap
into a steady flow of tax dollars by housing students in one of his buildings,
there's nothing locals can do to stop him.