Out-of-state money seems to be skipping the IPS board race

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Campaign sign for the 2016 school board election.

Out-of-state donors don’t appear to be spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board race this time around.

Incumbent candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools board are swamping their challengers when it comes to fundraising, but this election has drawn far less money than other recent races.

Pro-reform candidates are raking in tens of thousands of dollars in donations from local advocates who have been pushing the district to embrace school reform policies and partnerships with charter schools for years, according to fundraising reports filed last week. But unlike in recent elections, there hasn’t been a big influx of cash from out of state.

Out-of-state donors have played a contentious role in the last two elections, donating big to some candidates and inspiring backlash from people who say that money is playing too big a role in school board races. But either out-of-state donors are less interested in spending this time around — when the board is solidly in the hands of reform advocates and races elsewhere are more exciting — or the candidates are wary of the optics of taking their donations.

READ: Find more on this year's races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.
READ: Find more on this year’s races for superintendent, governor and IPS school board.

Instead, the largest contributions have come from local philanthropist and businessman Al Hubbard and political action committees associated with the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors.

The top fundraisers are the candidates who have won support from school reformers and endorsements from the advocacy group Stand for Children. They include incumbents Sam Odle (who has raised $25,626), Michael O’Connor ($22,443) and Diane Arnold ($16,354), and newcomer Venita Moore ($23,448).

Their fundraising dwarfs that of other candidates, who have raised hundreds of dollars or less. The only other contender who has raised more than $1,000 is Jim Grim, who is running against Odle for a seat representing the entire district. Grim has raised $4,805 so far.

Friday was the deadline for filing fundraising reports with the Marion County Election Board. Seven of the 10 candidates submitted reports, which are required if a candidate collects or spends more than $500. Candidates will file final reports after the election.

The reports don’t include spending from advocacy groups such as Stand for Children, which are not required to report campaign spending to the county. That doesn’t mean those groups aren’t investing in the election: Stand has sent mailers for the candidates it endorsed, and in past races it has hired workers to promote them at the polls on election day.

Most candidates appear to have coalesced into slates. The three incumbents and Venita Moore, who have received donations and support from pro-reform advocates including Stand, will send out a combined mailer. Moore, O’Connor and Arnold each gave $3,795 to Odle’s campaign for the mailers, inflating the total he reported raising to $37,011.


On the other side, four candidates endorsed by Concerned Clergy and OurIPS, a new group formed to unseat incumbent board members, seem to have banded together. Green signs endorsing Grim, who is running districtwide, and the other candidates endorsed by the groups can be spotted across the district.

At-Large District: Sam Odle vastly out fundraises competition

Although Odle faces the prospect of a potentially tough race against two well-established challengers, he has raised far more money than either of them. Odle raised $25,626, excluding the contributions he got from other candidates for campaign materials. That’s actually significantly less than his last campaign when he had raised about $41,500 by this point in the election.

Odle’s largest contribution came from Hubbard, who donated $5,000. He also received large donations the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which donated $4,250, and Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which donated $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $2,224. Attorney Greg Hahn and Citizens for Excellence in Government each donated $1,000.

Grim, an IUPUI staffer and education advocate who is challenging Odle for his seat, has raised $4,805. Most of his reported cash came from smaller donations of between $25 and $200. His largest contributions were $1,000 each from Jonathan Atkins, who works in finance, and Mary Jo Dare, who is retired.

Elizabeth Gore, a former school board president who is running against Odle for a seat representing the entire district, raised $250.

Nearly all of the reported donations for the candidates came from Hoosiers. The only out-of-state donations were from a handful of individuals who contributed less than $200 each to Odle’s and Grim’s campaigns.

District 1: O’Connor out raises opponent by more than $20,000

O’Connor is running his first race for the board after he was appointed last year when Caitlin Hannon left. He has raised $22,443 so far, and only reported one out-of-state contribution.

O’Connor’s largest contribution came from an Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which donated $4,250 and the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which donated $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $418. He also received big checks from several individuals: Developer Darell Zink donated $3,000, Al Hubbard donated $2,500, physician David Brokaw donated $2,000, former-Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson donated $1,000, Eli Lilly and Company CEO John Lechleiter donated $1,000, the Indianapolis Colts donated $1,000, attorney John Hammond III donated $1,000 and Pacers executive James Morris donated $1,000.

His only challenger, registered nurse Chris Prince, has raised just $50 so far.

District 2: Newcomer Moore raises big cash

Three candidates with deep connections to the district are vying for the seat currently held by Gayle Cosby, but the only one who has raised significant cash is Moore.

A business consultant and IPS graduate, Moore has raised $23,448. Like many of the incumbents, she received large donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC, which contributed $5,000, and the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC, which contributed $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $463. Businessman Reid Litwack and Liz Lahr donated $2,000, a Texas-based company called McConnell, Jones, Lanier & Murphy contributed $1,800 and her company Engaging Solutions donated $1,000.

Ramon Batts, a teacher and returning candidate, has raised $950. Nanci Lacy, an IPS parent and education advocate, did not file a report but said she has raised $90.

District 4: Arnold raises more than ever before

Diane Arnold is running for her fourth term on the board, but her fundraising is outpacing prior races. In the last election she ran unopposed.

Arnold, who is facing off against protester Larry Vaughn in this election, apparently felt enough pressure to tap into the funding that has helped propel other school reform advocates to victory in recent elections. She has raised $16,354 so far.

Her largest contributions came from the same set of donors that supported other incumbents. She received $5,000 from Hubbard, $4,250 from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce PAC and $2,000 in cash and voter files worth $239 from the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors PAC. She also received $2,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by Litwack.

Her challenger Vaughn did not file a fundraising report with the county.

Indiana 2016 Election

The biggest donation in the IPS school board race came from an unexpected source

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

In the battle for control of the Indianapolis Public School board, the largest single campaign contribution came from an unexpected source: the teachers’ union. But the donation didn’t help the union-backed candidate.

In recent years, IPS board races have been dominated by pro-school reform candidates who have attracted large contributions from deep-pocketed donors. But in other elections — at other times, in other places — it’s common for teachers’ unions to spend big.

That’s what happened this time in Indianapolis.

Critics of the current administration made their first organized bid to unseat incumbent board members in 2016 when they formed the group OurIPS. The group didn’t donate to candidates, but the district-wide candidate the group supported, Jim Grim, did win a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Despite that cash, all four candidates backed by OurIPS lost on Election Day.

The contribution to Grim’s campaign was revealed in final campaign finance reports due to the Marion County Election Board last week. The disclosures detail fundraising and spending for each school board campaign, but they don’t include groups such as Stand for Children, which sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses but is not required to disclose all of its political activity.

Although the union donation was easily the largest single contribution any candidate received, other candidates did raise more in total. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce spent more overall but gave to four candidates.

Here are the totals for each race:


Grim raised $20,930 during the election. His opponents were incumbent Sam Odle, who raised $31,893, and challenger Elizabeth Gore, who won a surprise victory in the raise. Gore has not filed a finance report, but she told Chalkbeat after the election that she raised about $1,200.

District 1

Incumbent Michael O’Connor vastly out fundraised his opponent in the race, raising $23,543, according to his disclosure. Challenger Christine Prince raised $100.

District 2

Venita Moore, a newcomer who won the seat with support from Stand for Children, raised $25,712. Ramon Batts, who had the support of OurIPS, raised $3,550. Nanci Lacy did not file a report.

District 4

Long-time board member Diane Arnold raised $16,696. Challenger Larry Vaughn did not file a report.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect a new fundraising total for Michael O’Connor, who submitted a corrected disclosure.

day one

Three new members join IPS board, Sullivan elected president

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Five IPS board members were sworn in. Left to right: Elizabeth Gore, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Diane Arnold, Venita Moore and Michael O'Connor.

Mary Ann Sullivan will lead the Indianapolis Public School board for the second year in a row, bringing a dose of consistency to a board that begins the term with three new members.

At the first meeting of 2017, the seven-member board swore in three new members, Dorene Rodriguez Hoops, Elizabeth Gore and Venita Moore, and two returning members, Diane Arnold and Michael O’Connor. In a clear sign of the growing collaboration between the city — which oversees dozens of charter schools — and the school district, the members were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

“The decisions you make here profoundly impact not only the students that attend IPS today but … the future of this great city,” Hogsett said. “As our city strives to always better our schools, your individual rules in that effort are critically important to the long-term health and well-being of this city.”

The new board unanimously elected Sullivan as president, O’Connor as vice-president and Gore as secretary. Sullivan, who was also president in 2016, joined the board two years ago as part of a wave of members who support dramatic changes aimed at improving the lowest performing schools.

“I will do my best to maintain the progress that we are making on so many fronts and to keep our sense of urgency,” Sullivan said. “I am very, very confident that this board is ready to provide the leadership needed to transform lives.”

Two of the new board members won spots following a bruising election fight for control of the board between advocates for radically overhauling the district by embracing policies such as partnerships with charter schools and critics who favor more traditional management. The third new member was chosen by the board to replace LaNier Echols, who resigned following the election.

The three newest board members bring a wide range of experience to the board. Here’s a little about each:

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops is the most mysterious new board member because she was chosen by the board to fill a vacancy, rather than going through the election process. She represents District 5, which covers the northwest section of IPS. Although her positions on many of the biggest issues facing the district are not clearly fleshed out, her personal background gives her a unique perspective on many of the issues facing IPS families. A first-generation Mexican American and fluent Spanish speaker, Hoops is the only Latina board member. She also is the only current parent on the board, with a son enrolled at Center for Inquiry School 27. Her son has special needs, and she said her work advocating for his education renewed her commitment to ensuring educational access.

Elizabeth Gore defeated Sam Odle for an at-large seat representing the entire district. Although she is newly elected, this is not her first time on the board. Gore served a term on the board before losing a reelection bid in 2012, when a wave of critics of former-superintendent Eugene White captured control. In her bid for reelection, Gore was not backed by school-reform supporters or the organized opposition, and her victory was something of a surprise. She is a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School and her three children graduated from Arsenal Technical High School, where she led the parent teacher association.

Venita Moore won a three-way race to replace former board member Gayle Cosby, a frequent critic of the administration. She represents District 2, which covers the northeast section of IPS. A business consultant with experience running a state agency, Moore was endorsed by pro-reform groups including Stand for Children. But she does not have a significant record of political work on education, so her approach to the school board is still something of an unknown. Moore is also an IPS graduate, and her daughter graduated from Crispus Attucks High School.