NewsPublic Affairs / October 22, 2018

Q&A With The Candidates For Indianapolis Public Schools Board Of Commissioners

Three Indianapolis Public Schools commissioner seats are up for reelection this November – at-large, district 3 and district 5.

WFYI asked each of the candidates to fill out a questionnaire to help readers understand their positions. The candidates are grouped by district and then listed alphabetically.

At-Large Candidate Responses District 3 Candidate Responses District 5 Candidate Responses

At-Large Candidates

Why are you running, and what makes you qualified to run for school board?

Susan Coons Collins: As a candidate, I bring experience, commitment, and active community participation to the school board.  Having raised my children in IPS, having taught in the system, and having participated in leadership roles professionally in neighborhood groups and within my church, I understand the various and complex perspectives of multiple stakeholders. I want to bring the voices of those stakeholders to the decision-making table: I want the voices of Indianapolis families to be heard and not only the voices of business interests, investment bankers, and outside political groups.

Joanna Krumel: I’m running because I care deeply about IPS, and want it to be a quality education choice for all students. I’ve served IPS in numerous volunteer opportunities over the last 13 years, and have a good relationship with many administrators and staff.

Mary Ann Sullivan:  I am committed to the students and families of IPS. I believe in their success. I am confident that the strategy that the current board has put in place is the right one. While I am proud of the work we have done thus far, I know there is much more to do. I would like to continue to serve on the board to make sure that the changes we have made work, and are sustainable. My broad experience in the field of education, work on multiple non-profit boards, service in the general assembly, and passion for this work make me uniquely qualified for this role.


Please give a brief assessment of IPS under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee over the last five years.

Susan Coons Collins: Dr. Ferebee and like-minded members of the school board have moved in the direction of making IPS a real estate holding firm for private charter school interests and innovation partners instead of a school district that controls its own curriculum and destiny.  He and the current board have accessed private funding that fills the gap caused by the state’s siphoning-off of public funds to private and charter schools.  I believe that Dr. Ferebee was hired to move IPS towards a charter school system that segregates the children of Indianapolis and that provides false hope that schools are made better for all children.

Joanna Krumel: Dr. Ferebee has initiated a lot of change for change’s sake, without giving an opportunity for those changes to take hold and manifest in one direction or another. It’s been quite frustrating as a parent to see many programs come and go, especially ones that were working well to start, only to have them removed quickly.

Mary Ann Sullivan: The district has done a lot of hard work laying the foundation for a new system. Now that we have much of the new infrastructure in place, it is critical that we maintain efforts to drive more resources and power to schools, focus on continuous improvement, create more choices to meet the diverse needs of our families, and ensure that access and funds are equitably distributed.


What do you see as the most pressing issues for the district?

Susan Coons Collins: I would like to see no more schools closed.  I believe talent is within the schools and universities in Indianapolis that can make a difference in school performance.  I believe that there is a dire financial need for Indianapolis Public Schools that needs immediate attention.  I have seen administrators’ and central office leaders’ salaries sail into six figures, while teachers—many of whom are Teach for America or The New Teacher Project graduates that have little inherent commitment to teaching as a lifetime career-- receive a salary that remains low for professionals and that remains stagnant.  At the same time, union protections are limited, job security is tenuous, and working conditions are chaotic. I want to see any funding gained by referenda and/or bonds and/or increased state funding go to teaching the children and to the teachers who are responsible for their education.   

Joanna Krumel: Finances are the most pressing issue that our district faces, but that is now a universal issue in public education, so I’m going to prioritize diversity and serving the needs of our most vulnerable students as our core focus. We continue to fail to address the needs of our at-risk students, and every decision we make as a district should be geared towards a solution to better their educational environment.

Mary Ann Sullivan: Number one is increasing student achievement. We also must increase teacher compensation, improve family engagement, and continue to create good schools for kids in every zip code.


What are your feelings about IPS partnering with the Indy Chamber to seek cost-cutting and cost efficiency proposals?

Susan Coons Collins: The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce is a business organization with its primary interest in business growth and profitability.  I suspect they see the children of Indianapolis as investments in potential human capital within a system of gains and losses.  Children and families are not widgets, malleable to the changes of business.  Any partnerships with businesses should be inclusive of the many needs and potentials of Indianapolis children.

Joanna Krumel: I feel that public education should be guided by public voices, and not business interests. Our student are not commodities, and should not be treated as such. Our top administrators in the IPS district are paid competitively to do their jobs, and that includes managing the finances of our district.  If they are unable to accomplish the tasks of their jobs without outside influence, let’s bring in new people that are able to.

Mary Ann Sullivan: I am extremely excited and grateful that the chamber has made this investment in our success. I am confident that the process will be mutually beneficial. The business community will gain greater understanding of the unique challenges we face as the state’s largest district, and talented professionals will help us find ways to drive more dollars to classrooms.


The current school board has been in favor of expanding innovation network schools in the district. Do you support this method of improving schools and partnering with outside groups to improve failing schools?

Susan Coons Collins: Outside groups enter the Indianapolis Public Schools arena following profit.  They leave when the profit is gone.  The promise of common schools is part of the Indiana Constitution, a promise that one should be able to depend on without fear of its loss.   Innovation Schools are charter schools.  They have charter providers backed by private and public funding.  Innovation schools have their own Board of Directors. The current IPS school board has positioned itself to become property managers, abdicating a strong role in programming.  I believe that talent resides in Indianapolis, a talent in creative thinking that could make a difference in public schooling.  Charters have proven to be no better, and many times worse, than the public schools they have replaced.  Note the empty charter buildings around the city.  The word ‘Innovation’ is a brand that is as meaningless as ‘New and Improved’ on a product.   Innovation charter schools are held accountable to a different set of rules than public or private schools.  If innovation charter school are judged by a growth model for the sake of equality, then should not that standard also be applied to all IPS schools?  Furthermore, when a charter school or innovation school leaves town, where do the children go?   

Joanna Krumel: I do not feel the district should be partnering with schools, they should be leading them. If an innovation school wants to fall under the IPS umbrella, they need to let IPS delegate specifics that are in line with the district’s mission and ideals. All teachers and staff should be under the same contracts, rules and expectations, and maintain the same calendar for the school year.

Mary Ann Sullivan: The number of innovation network schools is dependent on the performance of existing schools and the opportunities to offer new, and better programs. Expansion is not a goal in itself. Innovation network schools are one tool in our toolbox for creating a great system of public schools. Yes, I support this method.


As a board member, how would you engage the public with what’s happening in the district?

Susan Coons Collins: I believe that there needs to be better communication between the IPS school board and Indianapolis families.  I have spoken to many residents over the past months and very few understand the ballot referenda.  Many complain of the difficulty in enrolling their children close to home.  Several have bemoaned the loss of favorite teachers when their school became a charter (Innovation).  If a parent wants to speak at a school board meeting, they must reserve a place and are given a few minutes to speak.  There is no discussion.  The Board has presented school closings and other grand decisions that impact neighborhoods and families as a done deal. In many cases where there would be a neighborhood outcry, the marketing team, Stand for Children, has promoted “innovations” as positive improvements, again without any discussion or consideration of alternative moves.  It would be better, in my opinion, to have input from the community—families, businesses, and educational leaders from our great Indiana universities—before moving on closure.

Joanna Krumel: I think tending to basic things would help communication. Accurate and easily maneuvered websites would be a start. A more selective approach to the use of Connect-Ed messages would be another. There is no need to repeat the same message over and over. The board should be more accessible to the community, and hold question and answer forums outside of formal meetings, at least one at each school per year.

Mary Ann Sullivan: I try to share district news via social media. I participate in community conversations on education and I am very accessible to meet with groups and individuals interested in IPS.I mentor young, community leaders who will be our next generation leadership to make sure they understand and are aware of our work.
 

Back to the top

District 3 Candidates

Why are you running, and what makes you qualified to run for school board?

Evan Hawkins: I am a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, and an IPS Dad. I am running for the IPS School Board - District #3 because I believe that ALL of our children deserve the very best quality schools, regardless of their socioeconomic status and geographic location. I am an experienced K-12 business operations leader, currently working in higher education.  Now more than ever our IPS community of children, teachers need someone with demonstrated school business operations experience to join the IPS School Board. Someone who understands how schools operate.

Michele Lorbieski: When my single mother enrolled me in the same neighborhood public schools she attended as a child she hoped that those schools would teach me everything I needed to know to escape poverty. She didn’t want me to struggle to raise my children on welfare like she did. Quality public schools prepared me to become the first person in my family to graduate from college at DePauw University, and law school at Georgetown. My mother’s dreams have been realized, and my dreams are bigger because I believe success should be measured by what you can do for your community, not what you create for yourself. I know firsthand that students who count on their urban school district to help them get ahead deserve every opportunity available to students in the suburbs, and the impact those children can have if they are given those opportunities. I chose to move from Carmel to Indianapolis because I wanted my daughter to attend diverse IPS schools. We don’t live in a priority zone surrounding the highest ranked IPS choice schools, but Izzy was lucky to get a seat at one of those schools, IPS 91, through the lottery. I am ready to serve as the next commissioner of IPS District 3 because I want to ensure that all IPS students are a priority, all of the choices available to IPS students are good choices, and the quality of their education is not based on luck.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: I am running for IPS school board to be a voice of equity and transparency for the children and the IPS community. My priorities are to take a closer look at programs and initiatives in IPS to evaluate what is working and discover opportunities for improvement, especially in Innovation and Choice schools.  I would like to make sure that IPS is not implementing programs that are proven to be ineffective, including programs that produce a lesser rate of success for students. I believe that IPS has to look at what strategies are working well in high achieving schools, and develop a plan to thread those programs and strategies into the schools with little to no achievement. Community trust has been eroded due to lack of transparency and understanding.  This has led to a controversial IPS funding request. I believe we should reevaluate the budget and provide a transparent roadmap for the community to better understand the current and future state of the finances in IPS. It is extremely important to ensure that IPS has the right people and resources in place to have the highest level of success.  


Please give a brief assessment of IPS under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee over the last five years.

Evan Hawkins: As a parent and community member, I believe now than ever, that we need an IPS School Board that can help Dr. Ferebee navigate the challenging waters ahead. In spite of the numerous challenges today, I believe Dr. Ferebee been an effective leader. I am especially pleased with Dr. Ferebee’s efforts to repeal a long standing teacher pay freeze, as well as increase pay for our bus drivers.

Michele Lorbieski: Dr. Ferebee has demonstrated an ability to inspire the Board to move his initiatives forward, including the adoption of innovation schools and the most recent contract with the Indy Chamber, but I disagree that these initiatives are good for our children. I am troubled that Dr. Ferebee has given the Indy Chamber more access than members of the IPS community in making key decisions that impact our children. I would like to see Dr. Ferebee, and the Board, work harder to be a better partner to its community.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: Over the time that Dr. Ferebee has been in IPS we have seen little improvement. Our data from school year ending 2014 - 2017: Less than 30 percent of students passed ISTEP (big drop from 2013/14 when a little over 51 percent passed); Only 5-10 percent of our grade 10 high school students passed ISTEP; 60-74 percent of our third graders are passing iRead; Majority of our high school students are not taking ACT/SAT; Only 6-8 percent of our high school students are passing AP tests. Our district grade has consistently been a D since Dr. Ferebee has been the superintendent, which shows no improvement.  Over the last five years we have continued to lose about 1,000 students per year.  Most of our schools that were successful prior to Dr. Ferebee, continue to be successful. (CFI’s, Montessori’s)  Unfortunately, our successful schools have become less diverse because of district/neighborhood boundaries. Lastly, the superintendent’s core staff (cabinet) is not made up of educators with deep leadership or administrative experience.


What do you see as the most pressing issues for the district?

Evan Hawkins: The long term financial outlook for the district is very concerning. Declining revenues and enrollment fluctuations have contributed to recent structural deficits.  It is critical that the district develop a long term financial plan that outlines where we are going. This financial plan must be transparent with a focus on equitably driving dollars into our classrooms. I believe that we owe such a plan to our children, teachers, community, and taxpayers. To me this is responsible stewardship.

Michele Lorbieski: I see funding and teacher recruitment and retention as two of the most pressing issues for IPS. I am hopeful that the referenda will pass and want to serve on the Board to ensure that those funds are spent responsibly and for the benefit of all IPS students. Our IPS teachers are making less than teachers in all of the surrounding districts and receiving 16 percent less today than they did in 2000. We have to increase teacher pay to ensure that we can recruit and retain our best teachers.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: Equity, Student Achievement/Success, Short term/Long term financial sustainability.


What are your feelings about IPS partnering with the Indy Chamber to seek cost-cutting and cost efficiency proposals?

Evan Hawkins: I believe that the Indy Chamber/IPS collaboration can be productive. IPS is under tremendous financial pressure and should be open to working with experts to identify ways to improve our challenged (short term/long term) financial outlook. Should recommendations surface from the assessment, I would ensure that they are managed by the Superintendent, with appropriate Board oversight, in a transparent and public manner.

Michele Lorbieski: I am troubled that Dr. Ferebee has given the Indy Chamber more access than members of the IPS community in making key decisions that impact our children. The contract with the Chamber also sends the message that access to decision makers in IPS is a pay to play scenario. It is the responsibility of the IPS administration and Board to ensure that IPS funds are being spent responsibly. The contract with the Indy Chamber could result in the delegation of that duty to an organization that is not accountable to the IPS community.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: I believe that Indy Chamber can be a valuable asset to IPS to assist with financial guidance. However, Indy Chamber is not an organization that focuses solely on school administration. It is imperative that IPS is able to make decisions based off the educational needs of our children. Although the Chamber may be able to provide IPS with cost-cutting and cost efficiency proposals it is important to make sure that Indy Chamber is not the sole partner at the table. We have to be transparent with our community, and allow them to have input in the process.


The current school board has been in favor of expanding innovation network schools in the district. Do you support this method of improving schools and partnering with outside groups to improve failing schools?

Evan Hawkins: My daughter attends a CFI school which, which is a living representation of IPS choosing to be innovative and adaptable 25 years ago. I see IPS innovation Schools as a new generation of IPS’ willingness to take risks and adapt. However, I do not believe that IPS Innovation Schools are the end all, but a part of the IPS educational offerings to families. In order for IPS to not just contain premier schools, but to be a premier district, we must be willing to adapt and collaborate.

Michele Lorbieski: It seems like the conversation about innovation schools usually involves a yes or no, love or hate. I’m more in the middle. I was encouraged about the positive results reported out of innovation schools at some of the restarts, but I’ve learned that those results are skewed because innovation schools are evaluated in their first three years by growth only, while IPS schools are evaluated on growth and performance. This apples to oranges comparison has allowed innovation schools to jump from F to A ratings in one year without significant improvements to justify that jump in their rating. I’m also worried about the upheaval of all the teachers and staff at innovation school restarts, which I have found very little information about in the news or reports to the Board. The Board is moving way too fast in approving restarts and needs to confirm whether the current restarts are successful, and why, before approving any more restarts. I have a more settled opinion about the pathway for new and existing charters to come within the IPS umbrella as innovation schools without restarting a current IPS school. I have trouble understanding the benefit to IPS students of bringing existing or new charter schools into IPS as innovation schools because they can be a drain on IPS resources that do not help to resolve the problem of chronically underperforming schools.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: My priorities are to take a closer look at programs and initiatives in IPS to evaluate what is working and discover opportunities for improvement, especially in Innovation and Choice schools.  I would like to make sure that IPS is not implementing programs that are proven to be ineffective, including programs that produce a lesser rate of success for students. I believe that IPS has to look at what strategies are working well in high achieving schools, and develop a plan to thread those programs and strategies into the schools with little to no achievement.


As a board member, how would you engage the public with what’s happening in the district?

Evan Hawkins: Should I be so fortunate to serve as an IPS Commissioner, District #3, it will be key for me to be accessible as well as listen to our community and stakeholders. I will seek to understand and learn more about the challenges and opportunities across our district. Building trust can take long time, but can be lost in an instant. I will work to build trust.

Michele Lorbieski: As a commissioner, I would invite input from the entire IPS community by:

  1. Changing the Board’s Public Comment Rules: I would change the Board’s rules regarding public comment by increasing the time allowed for a member of the public to speak from 3 minutes to 5 minutes, removing the rule that the board will not comment or ask questions of the speaker, and requiring that all written comments be made available to the entire Board, and the public, online. It is troubling to see the contrast between the way the Board engages its community versus the way it engages IPS employees at their meetings. While the Board is silent after a member of the public speaks, it engages in a lively, and often complimentary, discussion with IPS employees. I think these changes would go a long way toward letting the community feel like the Board welcomes and appreciates their input.
  2. Setting Office Hours: I would set a regularly scheduled time that the public could meet with me in person to discuss issues they are concerned about and encourage other Board members to do the same. Again, these “office hours” would make it clear that I welcome and appreciate their input.
  3. Inviting Students and Teachers to Share Their Success Stories: Finally, I would engage the community by attending events at IPS schools and assist IPS in getting the word out about its success stories that are not getting the attention they deserve.

Sherry Lynn Shelton: I believe that a school board must be responsive and approachable to parents, staff, students, and the community at large to encourage an open and transparent dialog. The board must take feedback from all groups and assess all of the facts before making a decision. A board member is a representative of the community that elects him or her. That representative must be reachable and willing to collaborate with all members of the community, including all district staff. A school board member must build public trust and support. I want to be that transparent steward who is chosen by the community to represent your best interests in IPS. I would use multiple ways to collaborate with the public.  One way would be to use social media to share and receive information. I would encourage board members to form a group that would be critical friends to the board.  The group would be a diverse group of community members that would carry out the message/information to the public.  This group would also work with a school leader to make sure that all schools have representation and are informed.

Back to the top

District 5 Candidates

Why are you running, and what makes you qualified to run for school board?

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops: I’m running to serve as a commissioner on the IPS school board because I know firsthand the difference a quality education can make in a child’s life. A quality education made a significant difference in my life. This is what drives me to be an advocate for all IPS students. IPS students deserve access to great schools regardless of their background or where they live. We must prepare IPS students to reach their full potential and for a future of their choice. My personal background, education and work experiences provide a unique, important and much needed perspective on the board. I am first generation Mexican-American raised by a single mother who instilled in me the importance of education even though she had no formal education herself.  With her support, I went on to college and pursued a Master in public policy with a concentration in education.  I had a successful career in Human Resources working with diverse organizations where I helped optimize operations and developed effective Human Resources programs. I have two children attending IPS schools.  My oldest has a spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy diagnosis and has attended IPS since 2011. I’ve been a fierce advocate to ensure he gets the educational supports he needs to succeed in school. I see myself as an advocate for all IPS students to ensure we create the necessary conditions for them to succeed in school.

Taria Slack: I am running for School Commissioner because I have seen and continue to see a need for an advocate for parents, students, community members, teachers, and taxpayers.  Instead of taking a backseat in the discussion about fiscal responsibility and what is best for students, I decided to run. As a parent of IPS students and a strong advocate for my children, I want to be the voice for those in my community that may not be able or may not have time to voice their concerns. I want to make sure that as much of our tax money as possible is going into the classroom to educate all students.  


Please give a brief assessment of IPS under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee over the last five years.

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops: Dr. Ferebee has made impactful changes that are correlated to measurable results but there is much more work ahead to ensure high-quality school options are available for all IPS students. The following district successes come to mind: high school graduation rate is 83 percent (47 percent in 2008); replicated high-performing programs like Center for Inquiry, Montessori, & Butler University Reggio Lab; expansion of high school academic programs and career academies providing more options to high school students to select a school that aligns with their college and career interests; Opened Newcomer program to immigrant students and families to assist with transition to IPS and the Indianapolis community; Implemented in school year 2015-2016 an $8.8 million annual investment in teacher raises and maintained cost-neutral benefits; Disposition of underutilized facilities.

I would like to see him strengthen relationships with families and the broader Indianapolis community by developing a family and community communication and engagement plan with him taking the lead in that effort.  It’s only by working together that we can build a stronger IPS that meet the needs of the communities we serve.

Taria Slack: I believe that Dr. Ferebee has not done a good job of connecting to the IPS community. Too often decisions have been made without true community input. The School Board has allowed Dr. Ferebee to mismanage the budget and run deficit budgets for the last several years. I would like more authentic, diverse, parent and community engagement from Dr. Ferebee and the IPS Commissioners.


What do you see as the most pressing issues for the district?

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops: IPS has many high-quality school options but there is still more work to do. We must dramatically improve the quality of education for all IPS students by implementing competitive compensation programs to attract and retain top talent, expanding and replicating academic programs that have proven to be successful, and by implementing strategies that will reduce expenses so we can direct more dollars to the classroom.  With effective family and community engagement, we can build a stronger IPS that meets the needs of the communities we serve.

Taria Slack: Accountability - It is imperative that the Board and Superintendent be accountable to the Indianapolis community, especially for the financial decisions that impact our children’s education. Transparency- Dialogue must be open, honest, and easy to understand for all IPS stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, the business and non-business community. Stability- With all the education program changes, transportation changes, Enroll Indy confusions, and the closing of schools, parents and children have lost or are losing confidence in IPS. Public schools should be the major stable stronghold that ties the community together. Safety- Indianapolis Public Schools are often in the news for very serious issues in regards to safety. I want ALL our children to be safe from the time they leave home for school to the time they come back home. 


What are your feelings about IPS partnering with the Indy Chamber to seek cost-cutting and cost efficiency proposals?

Dorene Hoops: I see the Indy Chamber and IPS partnership as positive. IPS needs to continue to reduce expenses and the Indy Chamber and IPS partnership will provide IPS the support it needs to identify those savings.  Those savings will translate into more dollars directed to the classroom. With the support of the Indy Chamber, IPS will hire two new IPS executive positions that report to IPS but are funded by the Indy Chamber to identify savings associated with efficiency opportunities.  Recommendations for changes will be presented to the school board for review and approval.

Taria Slack: I support seeking cost-efficient proposals that ensure cuts are made as far away from the classroom as possible and in a way that will keep students safe. I will evaluate each proposal to make sure that it is going to improve the education of all students. 


The current school board has been in favor of expanding innovation network schools in the district. Do you support this method of improving schools and partnering with outside groups to improve failing schools?

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops: I have a sense of urgency to provide high-quality school options for IPS students now.  Although there are many excellent schools in IPS, we still have neighborhoods that lack high-quality school options.  High-quality innovation schools can provide us with options to consider when searching for the best school for a neighborhood.  A key component in the success of a new school is effective family and community engagement to gather vital input on what type of academic program serves the needs of students best in a given neighborhood.

Taria Slack: I believe it is time to pause starting new innovation schools. We need to evaluate carefully what is working and what is not working. Rather than bringing in more unproven ideas, I would like to see IPS concentrate on replicating our successful schools across all parts of the district.


As a board member, how would you engage the public with what’s happening in the district?

Dorene Rodriguez Hoops: The district should develop a comprehensive communication and engagement plan that would begin with a survey of families, teachers, staff and community partners to learn how they would like to engage with the district and the board.  There are various means of communication and information that can be provided and tailored to how the community would like to receive it.  The survey feedback can help IPS develop and implement a communication and engagement plan that meet the needs of the target audience.

Taria Slack: My job as a school board commissioner would be to reach out to the community. I will not wait for them to approach me. I want to know what is happening in our schools, both the good and the not so good. I will be listening to all community members.  I will work to remove the barriers that are currently in place that make it difficult for people to feel that IPS cares about what they think.

Back to the top

At WFYI, our goal is to cover stories that matter to you. Our reporting is rooted in facts. It considers all perspectives and is available to everyone. We don't have paywalls, but we do need support. So if unbiased, trusted journalism is important to you, please join us. Donate now.

 

 

Related News

Indiana To Crack Down On Motorists Passing Idle School Buses
Speak Up Speak Out Discussions Continue With Male Students
Pence Applauds Indiana's Reopening Plans, Promises Future Federal Resources