Three new members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board were sworn into office Monday evening. These newcomers to the seven-member board have been critical of the district’s controversial overhaul plan, known as Rebuilding Stronger. Now the district struggles to garner community support for a $413.6 million operating referendum to fund the changes.
“Although I haven't known them long, I'm already convinced they bring a wealth of wisdom, passion and determination to our work,” Commissioner Diane Arnold, a long-time board member, said during the meeting. “Congratulations to our newly elected officers. I pledge my support to your efforts as you lead us through a very busy year.”
Commissioners Hope Hampton, Nicole Carey and Angelia Moore were sworn in by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. The board also unanimously voted for Venita Moore to serve as the new board president and Angelia Moore as the vice president. Kenneth Allen was re-elected as board secretary.
Hampton won the District 3 vote against Kristen Phair, the sole contested IPS race. That seat covers the Northside, from Mapleton Fall Creek through Broad Ripple and a portion on the Eastside to Forest Manor.
Carey won District 5 and Moore won the at-large seat.
Some community members believe few people sought candidacy for the state’s largest school district because they didn’t have the financial connections needed to win. An analysis by WFYI and Chalkbeat Indiana found 14 out of the 17 IPS candidates who raised more money than their opponent over the past decade, won a seat on the Indianapolis board.
“I look forward to working with the community as we move forward in 2023,” Moore said. “As you know, we have a lot of challenging things in front of us. With those challenges are a lot of great opportunities and I believe that we are all set and ready to roll for our children in 2023.”
One of the pressing issues the board will tackle is the implementation of the Rebuilding Stronger initiative. The plan aims to boost academic performance by closing schools, increasing access to more school models, providing more academic curriculums and changing grade configurations from K-8 to K-5.
In October, all four IPS candidates said they would vote against the original plan. But in November, Carey and Moore said they were undecided as the district continued to adjust the proposal. Hampton said she would vote against the district’s proposed changes.
The final plan was approved in November and six school buildings will either merge or close in June.
Last month the board approved the district to place a $410 million capital referendum on the May 2 primary ballot to pay for building renovations and construction for a new elementary building. But the board must rally the community behind another property-tax increase to fund teacher pay and additional changes through a $413.6 million operating referendum. That would replace a current property-tax referendum approved by voters in 2018 and generate $51.7 million annually. Many education advocates have spoken against the referendum because they claim it doesn’t support the independent charter schools in the city and the district’s innovation charter schools as much as traditional, IPS-run schools.
The IPS board has until Feb. 17 to vote on whether to add an operating referendum to the ballot.
The IPS board of commissioners will have a meeting Thursday where they may discuss the operating referendum. It's regular review session is slated for Jan. 17 and action session is Jan. 19 at the John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services.