election

Exclusive: Hours before election, sudden resignation creates more uncertainty on IPS board

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
LaNier Echols

A day before voters head to the polls, Chalkbeat has learned that the Indianapolis Public School board will be changing even more than voters expected.

LaNier Echols, whose four-year term was not due to expire until 2018, confirmed today that she plans to resign in the near future.

That means that almost all the seats on the seven-member board could change hands in the next few months with four seats up for grabs tomorrow. Echols’ seat will be filled by someone chosen by either the current board or the new board depending on when she formally resigns.

Echols, a former charter school principal, said she had intended to wait until after the election to announce her resignation to avoid distracting voters from the race.

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.

When Chalkbeat reached her today, however, she confirmed her plans to leave.

“I did not want to say anything because of the chaos that’s occurring in this current election,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring any undue attention to me that needed to be given to the candidates who were being elected.”

Echols, who has a 7-month-old son, said her departure is related to family obligations. She said she has gone through several life changes since she decided to run for the board just over two years ago, including the death of her father, getting married and having a child.

She now plans on returning to Florida, where she attended high school, she said. Officials at the Carpe Diem Meridian charter school where Echols served as principal said she left her position in January or February.

“I wanted to be on the school board because of the children in Indianapolis Public Schools,” she said. “However, when you have your own children, you have to make some decisions.”

If Echols had resigned earlier in the election cycle, her seat representing District 5, which covers a slice of the district running northwest of downtown, would have been on the ballot along with the four other board members who are up for election. Echols said she knew she wanted to resign in late October.

Staff for Marion County Election Board could not immediately confirm how far in advance of the election Echols would have needed to resign for her seat to appear on the ballot. The deadline for candidates to enter the school board race was August 26.

William Groth, an Indianapolis-based attorney who specializes in election issues, said that since the vacancy would not be for a seat that would normally be on the ballot, Indiana law does not explicitly say when Echols would have needed to resign.

“I don’t know that there is any clear answer,” he said. “It would be more of a pragmatic issue of whether the ballot could be prepared early enough.”

In a statement issued after this story published, the district said that the board would fill the seat within 30 days. Residents of District 5 who are interested in joining the board should send a resume and cover letter to [email protected].

“Commissioner Echols has proudly served the students, families and neighbors of our northwest side,” said Superintendent Lewis Ferebee in the statement. “Our district has been fortunate to have her guidance, advocacy and support, and we wish her well.”

Coming less than 24 hours before Election Day, Echols’ announcement could shake up an already contentious race for control of the IPS board. With 10 candidates vying for four seats on the seven member board, the balance of power is at stake in the election even without Echols’ seat.

Follow Chalkbeat’s live blog on Election Day for highlights from the field and updates on the race as the results trickle in. You can find all of our election coverage here.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:

At-large

Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.