Appointing IPS board members on Brewer's agenda for mayoral campaign

Indianapolis Republican mayoral candidate Chuck Brewer thinks the city should be more involved in education — so much so that he proposed adding two mayoral appointees to the Indianapolis Public School Board.

Brewer, a veteran and owner of the downtown Soupremacy restaurant, set out six education priorities for his campaign, including a plan for working with IPS that has two potentially controversial ideas: the mayor naming a Republican and Democrat to the IPS school board and creating common enrollment and school evaluation systems that would apply both to traditional public and charter schools.

Brewer said the appointments, which would up the board to nine members from seven, would let both the district and city cooperate and collaborate better than they have in the past.

“The engagement of our city’s top elected leader, the mayor, is necessary, and I want to help IPS grow and succeed,” Brewer said at a news conference today. “The two mayoral appointments will provide the opportunity for solid positive impact while respecting the democratic process and the role of the seven elected IPS board members.”

But Gayle Cosby, who currently serves as an elected IPS board member, said she believed appointment would actually dilute the diversity of the board.

“I think we would end up with a school board that’s unrepresentative and probably unresponsive to the needs of our community,” Cosby said. “You lose the voter’s voice.”

The idea of appointing IPS board members isn’t new — The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis non-profit group that pushes for innovation and change in education, called for total mayoral control of the IPS school board back in 2011.

“Chuck deserves credit for raising the issue,” Mind Trust CEO David Harris said,

But Harris, who was the director of charter schools under former Mayor Bart Peterson, also said he believed two appointments to the school board doesn’t go far enough.

“If the mayor is going to have appointments, he or she should have a majority of appointments so it’s clear who’s responsible,” Harris said. “It creates clear lines of accountability. There’s one identifiable elected official that the public can hold responsible for the quality of the schools.”

In 2011, The Mind Trust released a bombshell 160-page report calling for a massive overhaul of the management of IPS. It called for the mayor to appoint members of the school board, slashing central office spending, empowering principals to manage schools more freely and creating a strategy to recruit charter school operators to work with the district.

In the three and a half years since the report came out, IPS has embraced all of those ideas to some extent with one glaring exception: there has been no support for the idea of mayoral appointments to the board.

Brewer said he spoke with IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee about the proposed appointments. The conversations were productive, he said, but he wouldn’t comment on how Ferebee felt about the issue.

IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler said Ferebee also wouldn’t give further details.

“Dr. Ferebee welcomes conversations with candidates, but doesn’t comment directly on election matters,” she said.

IPS board member Kelly Bentley said she doesn’t support or oppose the idea of appointing board members, but having the discussion in the context of the mayor’s race makes the subject needlessly political.

“We’ve got a lot of important work we’re trying to do,” Bentley said. “This is just a distraction that we don’t need right now. It’s a discussion worth having, but it probably should occur outside of the politically charged environment of a mayor’s election.”

Brewer’s education plans focus on IPS

Unlike his opponent Democrat Joe Hogsett, Brewer said his vision for how the city needs to improve education concerns more focused on IPS. Hogsett has spoken about the need for the mayor to have a broader view of education across the city, including township school districts.

“I’ve started to meet with a number of the different superintendents to find out what their needs are, and I’m about halfway through,” Brewer said. “Right now, I’m focused on the district that has our brand name: Indianapolis. When people focus on where they want to live and if they want to live in Indianapolis, generally the first school system they Google is IPS.”

And with that focus comes ideas for more changes, some of which the district has started to embrace on its own. A common enrollment process — one application system by which parents can select their school preferences from among traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools — has also been considered by Ferebee.

But Brewer also wants to take the mayor’s process of overseeing and evaluating charter schools and extend it to IPS schools as well.

“A single evaluation and a single enrollment system is going to allow parents to apply an apples-to-apples comparison of schools in the district,” Brewer said. “It’s going to enable them to make the best decisions for their children.”

Other parts of Brewer’s education plan are:

  • Deputy mayor. Jason Kloth’s last day in this role is Friday, but Brewer said he wants to keep the deputy mayor role.
  • Charter school office. Brewer would extend the mission of the charter school office to also oversee workforce development efforts.
  • Preschool. The plan calls for the state legislature to expand support for poor children to attend preschool.
  • Charter schools. Brewer endorsed Mayor Greg Ballard’s work to expand charter schools with good test scores and apply accountability to those that fail to improve.
  • Summer jobs. The plan suggests an online database of summer jobs available through the city and other organizations and a push to offer more of those jobs to high school students.