Out-of-state money seems to be skipping the IPS board race

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Campaign sign for the 2016 school board election.

Out-of-state donors don’t appear to be spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board race this time around.

Incumbent candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools board are swamping their challengers when it comes to fundraising, but this election has drawn far less money than other recent races.

Pro-reform candidates are raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations from local advocates who have been pushing the district to embrace school reform policies and partnerships with charter schools for years, according to fundraising reports filed last week. But unlike in recent elections, there hasn’t been a big influx of cash from out of state.

Out-of-state donors have played a contentious role in the last two elections, donating big to some candidates and inspiring backlash from people who say that money is playing too big a role in school board races. But either out-of-state donors are less interested in spending this time around — when the board is solidly in the hands of reform advocates and races elsewhere are more exciting — or the candidates are wary of the optics of taking their donations.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Instead, the largest contributions have come from local philanthropist and businessman Al Hubbard and political action committees associated with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors.

The top fundraisers are the candidates who have won support from school reformers and endorsements from the advocacy group Stand for Children. They include incumbents Sam Odle (who has raised $25,626), Michael O’Connor ($22,443) and Diane Arnold ($16,354), and newcomer Venita Moore ($23,448).

Their fundraising dwarfs that of other candidates, who have raised hundreds of dollars or less. The only other contender who has raised more than $1,000 is Jim Grim, who is running against Odle for a seat representing the entire district. Grim has raised $4,805 so far.

Friday was the deadline for filing fundraising reports with the Marion County Election Board. Seven of the 10 candidates submitted reports, which are required if a candidate collects or spends more than $500. Candidates will file final reports after the election.

The reports don’t include spending from advocacy groups such as Stand for Children, which are not required to report campaign spending to the county. That doesn’t mean those groups aren’t investing in the election: Stand has sent mailers for the candidates it endorsed, and in past races it has hired workers to promote them at the polls on election day.

Most candidates appear to have coalesced into slates. The three incumbents and Venita Moore, who have received donations and support from pro-reform advocates including Stand, will send out a combined mailer. Moore, O’Connor and Arnold each gave $3,795 to Odle’s campaign for the mailers, inflating the total he reported raising to $37,011.


On the other side, four candidates endorsed by Concerned Clergy and OurIPS, a new group formed to unseat incumbent board members, seem to have banded together. Green signs endorsing Grim, who is running districtwide, and the other candidates endorsed by the groups can be spotted across the district.

At-Large District: Sam Odle vastly out fundraises competition

Although Odle faces the prospect of a potentially tough race against two well-established challengers, he has raised far more money than either of them. Odle raised $25,626, excluding the contributions he got from other candidates for campaign materials. That’s actually significantly less than his last campaign when he had raised about $41,500 by this point in the election.

Odle’s largest contribution came from Hubbard, who donated $5,000. He also received large donations the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which donated $4,250, and Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which donated $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $2,224. Attorney Greg Hahn and Citizens for Excellence in Government each donated $1,000.

Grim, an IUPUI staffer and education advocate who is challenging Odle for his seat, has raised $4,805. Most of his reported cash came from smaller donations of between $25 and $200. His largest contributions were $1,000 each from Jonathan Atkins, who works in finance, and Mary Jo Dare, who is retired.

Elizabeth Gore, a former school board president who is running against Odle for a seat representing the entire district, raised $250.

Nearly all of the reported donations for the candidates came from Hoosiers. The only out-of-state donations were from a handful of individuals who contributed less than $200 each to Odle’s and Grim’s campaigns.

District 1: O’Connor out raises opponent by more than $20,000

O’Connor is running his first race for the board after he was appointed last year when Caitlin Hannon left. He has raised $22,443 so far, and only reported one out-of-state contribution.

O’Connor’s largest contribution came from an Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which donated $4,250 and the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which donated $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $418. He also received big checks from several individuals: Developer Darell Zink donated $3,000, Al Hubbard donated $2,500, physician David Brokaw donated $2,000, former-Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson donated $1,000, Eli Lilly and Company CEO John Lechleiter donated $1,000, the Indianapolis Colts donated $1,000, attorney John Hammond III donated $1,000 and Pacers executive James Morris donated $1,000.

His only challenger, registered nurse Chris Prince, has raised just $50 so far.

District 2: Newcomer Moore raises big cash

Three candidates with deep connections to the district are vying for the seat currently held by Gayle Cosby, but the only one who has raised significant cash is Moore.

A business consultant and IPS graduate, Moore has raised $23,448. Like many of the incumbents, she received large donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which contributed $5,000, and the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which contributed $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $463. Businessman Reid Litwack and Liz Lahr donated $2,000, a Texas-based company called McConnell, Jones, Lanier & Murphy contributed $1,800 and her company Engaging Solutions donated $1,000.

Ramon Batts, a teacher and returning candidate, has raised $950. Nanci Lacy, an IPS parent and education advocate, did not file a report but said she has raised $90.

District 4: Arnold raises more than ever before

Diane Arnold is running for her fourth term on the board, but her fundraising is outpacing prior races. In the last election she ran unopposed.

Arnold, who is facing off against protester Larry Vaughn in this election, apparently felt enough pressure to tap into the funding that has helped propel other school reform advocates to victory in recent elections. She has raised $16,354 so far.

Her largest contributions came from the same set of donors that supported other incumbents. She received $5,000 from Hubbard, $4,250 from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC and $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $239 from the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC. She also received $2,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by Litwack.

Her challenger Vaughn did not file a fundraising report with the county.


Who will be advising Indiana’s next state superintendent? Not the charter advocates some expected

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Jennifer McCormick

Indiana’s next state superintendent Jennifer McCormick today announced the team of 17 educators and policymakers who will help her prepare to take office in early January — and not one of them is a major player in Indiana’s charter school or voucher scene.

That matters because for much of McCormick’s campaign, critics charged that she would be no different from her Republican predecessors who pushed sweeping changes in the state, shifting resources away from traditional district schools toward charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

McCormick insisted throughout her campaign that she’s not like Tony Bennett, the controversial former Republican superintendent, but those claims were largely dismissed by the state’s staunchest advocates for traditional public schools.

Perhaps until now.

“I am excited and honored to work with such a dynamic and diverse group,” McCormick, said in a statement as she announced her transition team. “The team’s commitment to Hoosier students will drive critical decision-making which will ultimately impact Indiana’s education system and ensure Indiana has one of the best Departments of Education in the nation.”

McCormick’s team includes one Republican lawmaker, several public school administrators, two university professors and a testing expert. Also on the list are community and business leaders as well as educators who work in preschools and with special needs children, among others.

The Institute for Quality Education, a school choice advocacy group that strongly backed McCormick’s campaign, will not have any direct representation on the team.

McCormick’s victory over incumbent Democrat Glenda Ritz was a surprise to many on Election Night. The Yorktown superintendent’s campaign focused on her strengths as an educator and leader following a decades-long career as teacher, principal and administrator.

But she has offered few insights about how she will govern, especially since her policy positions are fairly moderate.

While she’s likely to get along better with Republican lawmakers than Ritz, who spent much of the last four years clashing with the GOP, she’s expressed concerns about some major Republican-led initiatives over the past few years, most notably taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools that divert money from public schools.

The transition team is her first major act as superintendent-elect, offering Hoosiers their first look at her most important priorities.

Notably missing from the list is anyone from Indianapolis Public Schools — a detail that one school advocate called “unfortunate.”

“What Indianapolis has done is a national model, and so not to have that represented on the transition team seems like an omission,” said David Harris, CEO of The Mind Trust, a pro-charter school Indianapolis-based nonprofit. “IPS right now is also not just at the forefront of the state, but really at the forefront nationally in its work to create innovation network schools, and districts around Indiana would benefit from that perspective.”

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she had been looking forward to seeing who McCormick would pick to assist her since the two talked last week.

“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, this is a really mixed bag of people,’” Meredith said. “I’m glad that she is being really thoughtful in her selections.”

Here’s the full team:

  • Brad Balch: Professor and Dean Emeritus, Indiana State University, Department of Educational Leadership
  • Todd Bess: Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Principals
  • Wes Bruce: Education and assessment consultant who has spent many years with the Indiana Department of Education
  • Jeff Butts: President-Elect, Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, current superintendent of Wayne Township.
  • Rep. Tony Cook: State Representative, Indiana House of Representatives – District 32, vice chairman of the House Education Committee
  • Denny Costerison: Executive Director, Indiana Association of School Business Officials
  • Scot Croner: Superintendent, Blackford County Schools
  • Steve Edwards (Transition Team Chair): Retired Superintendent and Education Consultant, Administrator Assistance
  • Nancy Holsapple: Executive Director, Old National Trail Special Services Inter-Local
  • David Holt: Chief Financial Officer, MSD Warren Township
  • Lee Ann Kwiatkowski: Member, State Board of Education, assistant superintendent of Warren Township
  • Micah Maxwell: Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Muncie
  • Hardy Murphy: Executive Director, Indiana Urban Schools Association and Clinical Professor of Education, IUPUI, IU School of Education
  • Kathryn Raasch: Principal, Wayne Township Preschool
  • Terry Spradlin: Director of Community and Governmental Relations, Education Networks of America
  • Lisa Tanselle: General Counsel, Indiana School Boards Association
  • Kelly Wittman: Executive Principal, Max S. Hayes Career & Technical High School, a public school in Cleveland, Ohio.

changing of the guard

Will Indiana Republicans now move to make the state superintendent job appointed?

Now that a Republican is heading into the state superintendent office in January, Indiana lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — might start singing a different tune about the powers of that office.

The office has been the subject of dispute since 2012 when Democrat Glenda Ritz defeated Republican Tony Bennett in a surprise upset, becoming the only Democrat elected to statewide office.

Since then, as Ritz clashed repeatedly with Gov. Mike Pence and other GOP lawmakers,  Republicans have openly questioned the role of Indiana’s state superintendent, suggesting the job should have less power and should be appointed by the governor rather than elected.

During Ritz’s superintendency, GOP lawmakers passed a bill giving the Indiana State Board of Education the right to choose its own leader rather than having the superintendent automatically assigned as board chair.

But in the weeks since Republican Jennifer McCormick blocked Ritz’s re-election bid, the GOP resolve to limit the state superintendent’s powers seems to have diminished.

There might also be changes on the other side of the aisle, where Democrats signaled their support for a strong superintendent could waver.

At Tuesday’s legislative Organization Day, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he’s advocated for reducing the superintendent’s power “for 30 years” but that he didn’t think he’ll make that a priority for the next legislative session beginning in January.

“I want to have a discussion with the superintendent-elect,” he said. “It’s probably not an issue for this session. Perhaps next.”

For Democrats who were in office when Indiana had Democratic governors, the question of appointing the state superintendent is a sticky one. Back then, Indiana had a Republican state superintendent and many Democrats argued the governor should appoint that position in order to have consistency in education policymaking.

But with Ritz in the role and constantly crossing swords with Pence, Democrats defended her against calls to strip power from her office.

Democratic House leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said that’s why big changes, like taking away voters’ option to choose the state superintendent, shouldn’t be made lightly.

“On balance I think people like more choices rather than fewer at the ballot box,” he said. “I think we’ve had a system that has more or less functioned over a period of time. We shouldn’t change it without a great deal of hesitation.”

Even so, Pelath said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to making the superintendent job appointed.

“I have an open mind,” he said. “I could be convinced either way.”

With McCormick in and Ritz out, there could be a lot of second guessing on key questions about her role and her power.

Bosma was among a majority of Republicans who successfully backed a bill to change that longstanding rule, instead allowing the 11 board members to pick their own leader. Democrats opposed the change, arguing that it was a blatant attempt to take power away from the superintendent.

After fighting to give the board the option to choose someone besides the state superintendent as chair] — a right that kicks in for the first time next year —  Bosma declined to say whether he thinks the board members should simply select McCormick for the role. “I have not made a determination on that,” he said.

Pelath said he still thinks the state superintendent should chair the board, even if it’s McCormick.

“That’s one you can’t have both ways,” he said. “I support the way that it was before the attacks on Superintendent Ritz and the stripping of her abilities. If we’re going to have a state superintendent this person should be empowered to do something about education.”

Bosma said he wants to let the changes the legislature made to the state board play out.

“I think the system we put into place has worked,” he said. “Is it perfect? Probably not. We’ll let the new superintendent get her legs under herself first and get the Department of Education back on track, because I’m not sure it is right now, and let the dust settle.”