IPS school board candidates already are pulling in big bucks

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Five of the 10 candidates seeking election to the Indianapolis Public School Board sit at a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Indianapolis NAACP chapter.

Three candidates for IPS school board have already raised at least $15,000, suggesting this year’s race could rival 2012 as one of the most expensive in the district’s history.

For the crowded race this fall, with 10 candidates seeking three seats, the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and a union for state and city workers jointly hosted a candidate forum today at Martin University. Nine of the 10 candidates attended the forum, moderated by WTLC radio host Amos Brown, including the three incumbent candidates: Annie Roof, Michael Brown and Samantha Adair-White.

Roof is opposed by former State Rep Mary Ann Sullivan, Light of the World Church Pastor David Hampton, Butler University professor Josh Owens, and former IPS employee Ramon Batts. Adair-White is being challenged by former school board member Kelly Bentley and another former IPS worker, James Turner.

LaNier Echols, a charter school administrator who is running against Brown in District 5, could not attend.

On some of the key issues discussed at the NAACP’s forum, here is where the candidates said they stand:

Money floods in for some candidates

Moderator Amos Brown asked all the candidates to reveal how much money they had raised. Here’s what they said:

  • At-large race: Sullivan has a large fundraising lead of the five at-large candidates with about $30,000. Hampton said he’s raised $15,000, Roof has $3,500, Owens has raised $2,500 and Batts said he has $525.
  • District 3: Bentley said she has about $30,000, Adair-White said she has about $1,500 and Turner said he hasn’t raised any money yet.
  • District 5: Michael Brown said he has $260 raised so far. His opponent, Echols, was not in attendance.

In 2012, three successful candidates all raised at least $50,000 running for the board, sums that were unheard of in past races.

Should IPS partner with charter schools?

Roof said a new law encouraging IPS to partner with charter schools “scares me a bit.” Passed earlier this year, it allows the district to hire charter school groups to run district schools or turn its buildings over to become charter schools.

While Roof is wary, she said she wants to partner with groups to help schools that have long struggled if such a deal works for both sides.

“I don’t want to give away our schools,” she said.

Sullivan was one of the few Democrats who supported the bill in the legislature. She said charters can be effective partners for IPS rather than the profiteers they are sometimes depicted to be.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what this legislation does,” she said. “There’s a lot of paranoia. The vast majority of (charter groups) are non-for-profit.”

Owens said he was “probably the strongest supporter (of the charter school law) of everyone here.” The partnerships will create solutions for neighborhood schools by giving them more flexibility, he said.

Adair-White said she is adamantly opposed to the law.

“You would not believe how many companies have contacted our superintendent to get one of those schools started,” she said. “Our kids are not for sale. It is a disgraceful attack. I don’t like it and I’m not with it.”

Bentley said she would favor any partnership to help kids improve, including charter school partnerships.

“If we care about kids, we need to get beyond the name-calling and beyond the conspiracy theories,” she said.

Top priorities: Graduation, parents and building on success

Hampton said raising graduation rates without awarding waivers, which exempt graduates from the requirement to pass state tests, was his top priority. Students can’t be prepared for college and life if they can’t pass state tests, he said.

“Are our children failing in a system or is the system failing our children?” Hampton said.

Brown said other schools can repeat the success of top-rated neighborhood schools, like School 90 and 109.

“There’s no new thing in education,” Brown said. “If you really want to improve, you have to replicate programs that are successful.”

Turner said the district needs to focus inward to improve rather than look for external partners.

“We’re going to strengthen other schools on the backs of IPS,” Turner said.

Ramon Batts, said parent engagement is missing from many schools.

“In elementary schools, you see parents everywhere,” Batts said. “By high school, it’s over. We need to build those relationships so they’re not angry. The only time we reach out is when we kick their child out of school.”

See More: Here are the six critical questions the IPS school board race will answer.

CORRECTION: Ramon Batts was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede