With days to the election, these questions loom large over the future of Indiana schools

PHOTO: Via Flickr Creative Commons

An ugly presidential election has a lot of Hoosiers eager for the end of the 2016 campaign season. But across Indiana, there are interesting and competitive local races, and their outcomes can have a big impact on education in the state. When the dust settles, there may be a lot of questions to answer about Indiana’s future.

Consider a few:

Will there be a Democratic resurgence?

Just last year, the Indianapolis mayor’s office flipped from Republican to Democrat. Could 2017 begin with Democrats also serving as governor, state superintendent and holding both U.S. Senate seats? That’s what some recent polls have suggested is a possibility. If that happens, is it a short-term trend or the beginning of a shift of the political pendulum back from recent years in which Republicans held nearly every important statewide office and boasted super majorities in both the Indiana House and Senate? Or if the results go the other way in a year when the Democrats have a big opportunity to break through, what will be the effect on political decision-making around education for a party that failed to capitalize on such an opportunity?

How will the post-Pence Republican Party be defined?

Under former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Indiana Republicans were pragmatic and task-oriented. Gov. Mike Pence took the party down a more ideological path. Since this year’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Eric Holcomb, worked for both Daniels and Pence, it’s not clear which of his former bosses he would emulate if elected. If he loses, who will become the leader of the party and which side of the party will they favor? Will a new direction include any changes to the education reform push of the last 12 years?

Would a re-elected Glenda Ritz be a bigger political force?

For four years, Republicans have been able to reassure themselves that Ritz was a fluke. The GOP argued that Ritz’s surprise 2012 win was about unhappiness with her predecessor Tony Bennett, who was pushed a series of big changes toward more test-based accountability and school choice, not necessarily about voters’ faith in Ritz as a leader. Republicans have treated her as someone who wasn’t much of a threat to repeat the feat in 2016 in this reliably red state. But if she wins again this year, Ritz takes would that argument away. How would both sides react? Would Republicans change their posture toward her, or would Ritz feel emboldened to push harder to move the state away from Bennett’s favored reforms?

Will any challengers break through and wins seats on the Indianapolis Public School Board?

The current school board majority is on a big winning streak. The last two elections have been swept by candidates who at least started out with a shared idea of how the district should change and won support from contributors with deep pockets. Most members of the current board have backed a controversial push for innovation schools, which are public schools turned over to private managers that, unlike charter schools, have officially remained a part of the district. But the thing about politics is it’s hard to sustain any movement, and the third election is a key test. Will the winning streak continue? What will this mean for the future of reforms backed by Superintendent Lewis Ferebee?


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.