Can community groups claim a win in defeat of well-financed candidate for IPS board?

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Elizabeth Gore

Now that the dust has cleared on the contentious battle for control of the Indianapolis Public Schools board, three well-funded candidates who’ve aligned with groups that support controversial reforms like charter schools have won seats on the board.

But in a stunning upset, former IPS board president Elizabeth Gore ousted incumbent Sam Odle.

Odle, who represented the entire district in one of the board’s at-large seats, was a strong supporter of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and initiatives such as innovation schools, which have charter-like freedom from district rules and hire non-union teachers.

Critics of Ferebee-style reforms touted Gore’s victory in Tuesday’s election as evidence that school choice advocates are losing their influence in Indianapolis — and that it’s possible for candidates to win without big money.

“(It’s) encouraging that moving forward, we can start to take back more seats next time,” said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of OurIPS, a community group that partnered with Concerned Clergy to lead an organized campaign to unseat the current board members in favor of a slate they endorsed.

Smith said critics of the current administration learned a lot from this campaign, and the groups aim to get more people involved.

“This isn’t the last thing that someone is going to hear from OurIPS or from parents,” Smith said. “We are just getting started.”

But supporters of the current board argue that Gore’s election is little more than an aberration. They note Gore was not among candidates endorsed by the OurIPS/Concerned Clergy coalition. In fact, none of the candidates backed by the coalition was victorious on Tuesday.

Groups like Stand for Children, which supports partnerships with charter schools and policies aimed at improving student test scores, meanwhile saw victories for three of the four candidates they supported including Diane Arnold in District Four, Michael O’Connor in District One and Venita Moore in District Two.

“I don’t think … there’s a kind of anti-reform vote out there,” said David Harris, CEO of the Mind Trust, a non-profit that supports charter schools, charter partnerships with IPS and reform policies.

But Harris was at a loss to explain Odle’s defeat. “What the explanation is, I don’t know,” he said.

Odle, who could not be reached for comment, is well known in the community. He vastly outspent his political opponents and received additional campaign support from Stand, which leads expensive campaigns for its slate of candidates.

The one controversy that popped up in the campaign was Odle’s history as a board member for ITT Educational Services, a for-profit company that filed for bankruptcy last month following severe federal sanctions.

Odle won his seat in 2012 with substantial backing from advocates who supported giving schools charter-like flexibility and policies aimed at improving student test scores. It was the first of two elections that helped reshape the district as a wave of people looking for ways to shake up the traditional district came to power. A former top executive at Indiana University Health, Odle attended IPS schools as a child and supporters had high hopes for his role on the board. But just one term later, Odle has lost his seat.

Gore won the seat easily, picking up 43 percent of the vote in a three-way race against Odle. Her success is something of a surprise because she was at disadvantage in the race — with substantially less funding and no endorsements from the groups seeking to reshape the district.

“I’m really kind of reeling,” Gore said a day after the election. “I’m praying that it was the people’s will. … People that felt that I would do a good job.”

A former IPS board president who is active in local groups such as Concerned Clergy, Gore is relatively well known in the community. She raised about $1,200 during the race — far less than the $25,626 Odle had raised in October — and mostly spent her campaign money on yard signs and radio ads.

This election is something of a reversal from Gore’s last campaign when she lost her seat representing District Two on the board in 2012 to a candidate, Gayle Cosby, who benefitted from extensive support from Stand and other pro-school choice advocates. Cosby didn’t run for reelection.

This time around, Gore believes her prior experience on the board helped her win allies.

“I felt that being on the board before was a plus,” she said. “When I was there, … I was always very visible. I always went to the schools.”

Correction: Nov. 10, 2016: A previous version of this story said that Odle was backed by Stand for Children in 2012. He did not go through their endorsement process or receive support.

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.