New IPS board members raised nearly $200K during campaign

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Mary Ann Sullivan is sworn in as an Indianapolis Public School Board member.

New Indianapolis Public School Board members Mary Ann Sullivan, Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols together raised nearly $200,000 last year to support their winning campaigns in what ended up as the most expensive school board election in the city’s recent history.

Three of the seven defeated candidates did not file final campaign finance reports by today’s deadline. Based on the reports that were filed with the Marion County Election Board, and prior reports filed in October, the losing candidates were known to have raised about $41,000.

Sullivan raised more than $73,000 for her campaign, followed by Echols with more than $65,000 and Bentley with more than $52,000.

But missing from campaign finance reports that were due today was any accounting of how much money was spent by outside interest groups, notably the advocacy group Stand for Children, an organization that pushes for change in IPS and in statewide education issues.

Stand for Children endorsed Sullivan, Bentley and Echols and ran independent campaigns on their behalf. They sent out mailers endorsing the candidates, and hired workers on Election Day to promote them outside the polls. But the group says it won’t say how much it spent on those efforts.

An end-of-year report filed with the Indiana Secretary of State said Stand for Children did not spend any money on the school board race through its political action committee, which was set up to support its political advocacy.

Instead, Stand for Children director Justin Ohlemiller said the group’s support of the school board candidates was paid through the organization’s national office, which is organized under a section of the tax code known as a 501(c)(4). Under the rules of that section, he said, the organization can be active in politics but is not required to disclose all its political activities. It also allowed the group to run its own autonomous campaigns on behalf of the candidates, instead of simply donating to their existing efforts.

Ohlemiller said there was nothing unusual about the group’s approach.

“We’re adhering to the law and what’s required for reporting,” he said. “There are (c)(4) organizations, not just ours, that activate around campaigns to elect leaders that the organization backs. This has become part of the body politics in our country and another way for organizations to support candidates.”

Final campaign finance reports were due today to the Marion County Election Board and shed light on where the money came for the huge war chests the winners built.

The newly installed school board members overwhelmingly outspent and then crushed three incumbents and a handful of other challengers in a race where outside spending by Stand for Children and campaign contributions from out-of-state donors quickly became hot-button issues.

Sullivan, a former Democratic state representative, raised $73,709 for her run against four challengers for a citywide at-large seat, according to the new filings. Sullivan, who raised most of her money from local education advocates and others in Indianapolis, ousted former school board president and IPS parent Annie Roof with 46 percent of the vote. Roof, who raised about $4,500, finished the race with 20 percent of the vote.

“I don’t think this should come as any big surprise,” Sullivan said, referring to the spending. “With the stakes higher than ever and with a higher profile election, you’re going to have more competitive races.”

Sullivan’s contributions range from $500 from former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson to $5,000 from philanthropist Al Hubbard, who sponsors an IPS teaching award with his wife. Sullivan also received $2,000 from Hoosiers for Quality Education, $5,000 from the Indianapolis Board of Realtors, and nearly $19,000 in both direct and in-kind donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce’s advocacy arm.

But unsuccessful school board candidate Ramon Batts, who raised $582 throughout the entirety of the campaign, said he thought there was too much spending by the winning candidates. Batts earned 9 percent of the vote while losing to Sullivan.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Batts said. “I hope that they do the right thing for the children, and not for all the people that gave them the money.”

Also defeated by Sullivan were Butler University instructor Josh Owens, who raised $2,708 last year, and Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, who has not yet filed a final report with the Marion County Election Board. Hampton’s pre-election reports listed at least $29,000 in contributions.

Echols, a charter school dean, raised $65,028 to oust longtime board member Michael Brown from his seat serving the Northwest side. Notable contributions to Echols’ campaign include $7,000 from a Political Action Committee called Leadership for Educational Equity, which received most of its contributions from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She also received $5,000 from Intel Corp. founder and Teach for America board member Arthur Rock.

Bentley, who returned to the board in January after a four-year absence, raised $52,677 to defeat Samantha Adair-White and charter school dean James Turner, another challenger. Neither Adair-White, who had raised $1,100 by the pre-election filing deadline, nor Turner filed final reports by the deadline.

Notable contributions to Bentley’s campaign include $750 from Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice CEO Robert Enlow and $200 from The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, along with sizable in-kind donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

“If you don’t reach the voters, they’re going in and voting blind,” Bentley said. “I’m not sure that’s a good way to elect school board members or anybody else for that matter. Virtually all the money I raised was used to reach voters.”

But Sullivan, less than a month into her four-year term overseeing the city’s schools, said she acknowledges that campaign dollars overall could be better put to use.

“I would rather see resources go to other places than PR and mailers and all of that,” Sullivan said. “However, that’s the system we have. Until we change that, an important quality to be a candidate is your ability to fund-raise.”

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

More in What's Your Education 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.