Updated 2:19 P.m. Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Originally published 12:32 A.M. Wednesday, Nov 4, 2020.
The four winners in the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners election will tilt the board firmly into support for the charter-friendly reforms ongoing at the state’s largest school district.
The contentious, and at times bitter, race over the nonpartisan board seats also became likely the most expensive election cycle in the district’s history. Pre-election campaign finance reports show around $430,000 in total was raised across four spots on the ballot. The four winners garnered nearly all of that campaign cash, much of it from political action committees who support the reforms.
Friday afternoon the county election office completed counting votes and absentee ballots from Tuesday's election. These candidates won their respective races based on the unofficial results:
- District 1 candidate Will Pritchard and District 2 incumbent Venita Moore easily surpassed their challengers by wide margins.
- District 4 incumbent Diane Arnold beat challenger Christina Smith by less than 4 percentage points.
- At-large challenger Kenneth Allen won by a slim margin of 2 percentage points over incumbent Elizabeth Gore in the four-way race -- despite massive financial support that totally eclipsed Gore’s efforts.
The Marion County Election Board is expected to certify results by Nov. 13, after reviewing provisional ballots.
The November election put the future of IPS in voters’ hands as the district continues to grapple with the pandemic, a $15 million funding gap and a pledge to address systemic racism and equity issues.
The election also made for an ideological battle with candidates roughly divided among two camps: those who want to continue collaboration with outside groups and charter organizations to improve failing schools, and those on the other side who are much more critical or suspicious of those reforms.
The proliferation of innovation schools -- district schools operated by charter organizations and nonprofit school managers with non-union teachers -- was a driving issue among candidates. The political action committees that poured money into the race support the controversial reform created by lawmakers in 2015.
In the end, the charter-friendly candidates won.
The most money poured into the four-way at-large race, where Allen raised $174,000, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Incumbent Gore raised just $12,185, with most of it coming from I-PACE, the political action committee of the Indiana State Teachers Association
Two other candidates in the race -- Ellis Noto and Kendra McKnight -- did not file finance reports. Candidates are not required to file if they do not spend or raise more than $500. But the two got a combined 21 percent of the vote. McKnight earned nearly 17 percent of the votes.
Allen’s campaign seemed the most complex and comprehensive of all the school board candidates. Stand For Children Indiana and RISE Indy, two nonprofit education reform groups with PACs, provided funding and support for expansive social media ads, radio ads, text campaigns and staff who handed out pro-Allen materials at polling sites.
Shortly after polls opened Tuesday morning, a billboard-on-wheels promoting Allen drove through the parking lot of the polling site at Arlington Middle School on the city’s northeast side.
So far, $285,000 has been reported as donations by the political action committees of the Indy Chamber, RISE Indy and Stand for Children Indiana to the winning candidates. The next deadline for campaign finance reports is in January.
Large amounts of campaign cash is not new in IPS, but it is unique within Indiana.
When district reforms gained traction eight years ago, school board candidates began breaking fundraising records. They also attracted donations from out-of-state charter-school supporters, like former Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg, and support from 501(c)(4) organizations that do not disclose spending.
Here are the unofficial results from the Marion County Election Board:
District 1, includes the near eastside and southeast
Will Pritchard, 52, an IPS parent and senior vice president at CREA, a community housing development company, won with 63 percent of the vote. He raised $79,734. Pritchard beat Brandon Randall, 37, the program director at VOICES. Randall raised $12,779.
District 2, covers Massachusetts Avenue passageway northeast of downtown
Incumbent Venita J. Moore, 64, a business consultant, won with 79 percent of the vote. She raised $85,040. Moore beat Daqavise Winston, 26, a former behavior specialist at Crispus Attucks High School. Winston raised $3,069.
District 4, includes the areas south and west of downtown
Incumbent Diane Arnold, 67, who is finishing her 14th year on the board, won with 52 percent of the vote. She raised $57,274. Arnold beat Christina Smith, 40, an IPS parent and a co-founder of the IPS Community Coalition, a group highly critical of IPS leadership and school board. Smith raised $12,510.
At-Large, includes the entire school district
Kenneth Allen, 37, program director at the Indiana Trafficking Victims Assistance Program, won with 40 percent of the vote. He raised $174,071.
Allen beat one-term incumbent Elizabeth Gore, 81, who previously served as a commissioner in 2009-12, and got 38 percent of the vote. Gore raised $12,185.
Allen also beat out two other challengers: Kendra McKnight, who works for an employment agency, and Ellis S. Noto, 29, a recruiter for the U.S. Armed Forces.
Allen and Pritchard will join the IPS School Board in January.