Township school board races

Perry Township school board candidates concerned about overcrowding

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
House Bill 1100 would encourage districts to consider sharing services, like busing, by offering grants.

Perry Township is one of 10 school board races in Marion County. Check back with Chalkbeat Indiana throughout the week for more information on the other township candidates.

 

District snapshot

Perry Township, located on the South side of Indianapolis, is the third largest township school district in the city, one of six large townships that together serve more than half of the children attending traditional public schools. Like several of the large township districts, Perry has undergone rapid changes in recent years, including strong growth in the percentage of poor children and children from ethnic minority groups. The district’s ISTEP scores have been above 70 percent passing and close to the state average the past four years, and its most recent graduation rate was 91 percent. The district, overall, was rated a C the last two years.

Key school district data

  • Enrollment: 14,718 students
  • Ethnicity: 59.7 percent white, 14.4 percent asian, 13.7 percent Hispanic
  • Eligible for free and reduced-price lunch: 60.6 percent
  • ISTEP math and English passing rate 2014: 72.2 percent
  • 2012-13 graduation rate (most recent available): 91.7 percent

Candidates

  • Stephen Maple, 70, professor at University of Indianapolis and attorney, running for re-election in District 1.
  • Jon Morris, 73, retired teacher, administrator and adjunct professor, running for re-election in District 1.

The following candidates could not be reached or did not respond to the survey questions.

  • Edward Denning, running for re-election in District 1.

Why did you choose to run for the school board?

Maple: I am running to continue and to improve Perry Township education.

Morris: I chose to run again for a school board position because I feel that I can bring a perspective to educational matters that is unique to other school board members and to the community.

What issues will you focus on?

Maple: Ways to enhance learning and managing overcrowded schools.

Morris: I would continue to focus on academic issues within our school, the growth in number of students in our schools, fiscal restraints our community expects from board members, and highlighting the many great things going on in our large corporation.

What is the most important issue facing your district?

Maple: (see #3)

Morris: I believe the most important issues at the present time reflect the large number of students and a lack of adequate and appropriate classroom space, especially at the elementary and middle school areas. Also, we presently have 47 different languages being spoken by our students, which demands additional help in ESL classrooms. We presently have kindergarten classrooms where only two students speak English.

Anything else about yourself you’d like to share.

Maple: I have served on the school board for 20 years — four as president — and I was named Indiana School Board Member of the Year in 2004.

Morris: This present year, I have served as president of our school board and have had my eyes opened to many facets of education of which the average taxpayer is unaware. This has also permitted me to share in decisions that affect thousands of our students, parents, and the community as a whole.

Answers have been edited for length.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.