Who's giving money to IPS school board candidates?

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo

The big money so far in the Indianapolis Public School Board race is going to challengers, who share common ideas for changing the district, over the incumbents.

Money flowing into the race is coming both from local activists and high-profile national figures, such as Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Today was the deadline to file fundraising reports to the Marion County Election Board. Final reports will be filed after the Nov. 4 election.

The top fundraisers so far are former State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan with more than $50,000, ex-school board member Kelly Bentley with more than $40,000,  charter school dean LaNier Echols with more than $30,000 and Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, who has brought in more than $20,000. All four favor increased autonomy for building principals, revamping teacher pay and partnering with charter schools.

Sullivan and Hampton are challenging school board president Annie Roof, who raised $4,200. Bentley is running against board member Samantha Adair-White, who has $1,100. Echols will go up against board member Michael Brown, who has about $420.

Overall, the seven challengers raised nearly $150,000. The incumbents raised about $6,000 between the three of them.

Campaign finance has become a central issue in the IPS school board race ever since an expensive 2012 election helped elect three new board members. Some candidates, like Roof, have criticized the high-dollar gifts and vowed not to accept any money from outside of Indiana.

Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat’s free Oct. 23 event with WFYI at the Central Library

The candidates’ campaign coffers are being filled by Indianapolis philanthropists, businesspeople and national education advocates, according to their financial filings.

There’s also money being spent on the race by advocacy organizations like Stand for Children, which doesn’t have to report to the county. Stand for Children is running its own campaigns backing Sullivan, Bentley and Echols by paying for advertisements on their behalf.

Here is what the candidates have raised so far, and who’s supporting them:

At-Large District: Sullivan and Hampton lead the way in fundraising

Sullivan, a veteran campaigner, won endorsements from groups like Stand for Children and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. She has earned $51,447 so far in contributions.

Notable contributions to her campaign include: $8,400 from Indy Chamber’s political action committee, $5,000 from Indianapolis philanthropist Al Hubbard, $2,000 from Christel House charter school founder Christel DeHaan, $500 from former Mayor Bart Peterson and $1,000 each from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and his wife Michelle Yee. She’s also received in-kind donations from the Indy Chamber to help with consulting.

Hampton also has raised a significant amount: $22,105, with $8,000 coming from Hubbard and DeHaan, who gave him $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. Other notable contributions include $5,000 from Indianapolis attorney Lacy Johnson, $200 from State Rep. Greg Porter’s political action committee and $100 from former mayoral candidate Melina Kennedy.

Roof has raised about $4,200 so far. Her biggest contribution $2,200 from Barbara Barrick. She also received $589 from The Pfahler Group, where she works as a marketing coordinator.

Butler University economics instructor Josh Owens has raised $2,208, with all of his donations coming in at $250 or less and most coming from Indianapolis and his hometown of Shelbyville.

Pastor Ramon Batts, an IPS athletic coach, has raised $525, with most coming from Baptist Ministers Foresight Alliance.

District 3: Kelly Bentley’s contributions dwarf incumbent

Bentley, who has been endorsed by both the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Stand for Children, reported she’s raised $41,723 so far, including nearly $10,000 in in-kind donations, dwarfing Samantha Adair-White’s $1,100. James Turner had not submitted his campaign finance filing by the Marion County Election Board’s 12 p.m. Friday deadline, according to a list of filings on its website.

Bentley’s contributions come from Indianapolis residents and education reform advocates across the country. Her biggest check came from Hubbard in the amount of $5,000. New York-based Stephen Suess gave her $2,500. (Suess is Bentley’s brother and the gift was website services, not cash.)

Her other notable contributions include: $1,500 from Stacy Schusterman, $1,000 each from LinkedIn’s Hoffman and wife Yee and $500 from Facebook’s Sandberg. Bentley has also received a $7,000 in-kind consulting donation from the Indy Chamber’s PAC and $4,000 from the Indianapolis metals warehouse Steel House.

Adair-White has raised $1,100 for her campaign, with more than half coming from her husband Jeffrey C. White.

District 5: Echols out-raises Brown by more than $30K

Can the longest serving school board member keep his seat on the board despite raising pennies compared to his challenger, whose contributions come from zip codes spanning from New York to California?

Michael Brown, who has served the Northwest side of the district since 1998, raised $310 for his campaign from July to October, with another $112 in cash that he started out with. Brown told Chalkbeat last month that he was confident in his grassroots support, but takes any challenger seriously.

LaNier Echols has friends with deep pockets.

Echols, a dean at Carpe Diem Meridian charter school who taught at IPS through Teach for America, has raked in more than $32,000 from April to Oct. 10. Intel Corp. founder and Teach for America board member Arthur Rock, who gave her $5,000, is her biggest contributor.

Notable contributions to her campaign include: $1,000 each from LinkedIn founder Hoffman and his wife Yee, $500 from Facebook’s Sandberg and $500 from Teach for America board member Suzanne Lehmann. (Disclosure: Lehmann is the chair of Chalkbeat’s board.)

She also received $7,000 in in-kind contributions from the Indy Chamber’s PAC for consulting, and another $1,200 in in-kind consulting from Washington D.C.-based Leadership for Educational Equity.

The election is Nov. 4. To read about the candidates’ positions on issues facing IPS, visit our interactive election tracker at

Note: This post has been updated to reflect that a New York-based contributor to Bentley’s campaign is her brother.)

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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