There are eight candidates running for three open seats in the upcoming Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners election.
To understand this race it’s helpful to look at candidates' endorsements.
Endorsed by Stand for Children
Stand for Children is a national non-profit that advocates for school reform. The local office supports changes pushed by IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.
This election it is endorsing three candidates ‒ the two incumbents Mary Ann Sullivan and Dorene Rodríguez Hoops and newcomer Evan Hawkins, who works for Marian University and was formerly COO of a local charter school network. All three support IPS’ expansion of school models.
"We have to have an IPS where yes there are great schools of choice, but also if a parent has no other recourse but to send their kid to the school down the block that is a great school as well,” Justin Ohlemiller, Stand for Children’s executive director says. “School type debate is frankly the wrong one to have, it should be a debate about school quality."
Stand For Children lobbied in support for the law that led to IPS’ innovation network schools.
The group has been criticized for their financial support of candidates. They declined to comment on how much they are spending on this election.
Jocelyn Allen, an IPS parent who helped pick Stand for Children’s endorsements says she wanted to pick candidates she felt would put children first.
“We want to make sure that the kids are held as being the most important and not seats,” Allen says. “Who is filling those seats and who is favorable to fill those seats.”
The candidates it endorses ‒ Sullivan, Hoops and Hawkins ‒ also support Superintendent Ferebee and the recent decision for IPS to partner with the IndyChamber in an effort to cut spending.
Endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition
The second group in this election is more critical of Superintendent Ferbee and the current school board.
These candidates share an endorsement from the IPS Community Coalition: Michele Lorbieski, a defense attorney; Susan Coons Collins, a retired teacher; and Taria Slack, an IPS parent and founder of an international ministry.
"Like all the candidates that we endorsed, of course, have similar issues that the IPS Community Coalition has with the district," Charity Scott, a leader with the IPS Community Coalition says. "Which is general transparency and gaining community input in a meaningful way."
IPS Community Coalition is more cautious about the growth of innovation network schools and how schools are funded. But they say it’s most important to hold the school board accountable and engage the public. They do not feel that this is happening now.
"They all seem to share the same perspective, which doesn't lend for very good community oversight for such a large and vulnerable district," Scott says. "They need stability, they need teachers to stay in their schools, they need their schools to stay open."
IPS Community Coalition president and IUPUI professor Jim Scheurich says if their candidates are elected it could change how the school board interacts with the community. Scheurich criticizes what he says is a lack of open process on the board.
“There's a way to do that that brings the community into a conversation and at the end the community feels like its participated in that conversation,” Scheurich says. “They might not like the result but they feel like it’s been fair.”
Candidates Without Endorsements
There are also the two candidates without an endorsement.
Joanna Krumel is an IPS parent and volunteer. She’s critical of the IndyChamber, IPS partnership and Ferebee’s leadership.
"We are doing a poor job of placing good magnet programs very far away from the kids who need it most, and we have a district that runs 465 east, west, south and we’re neglecting those kids,” Krumel said at a school board candidate forum, “Replicating the magnet programs that are working into our neighborhood schools would solve a lot of those issues.”
Sherry Lynn Shelton is the director of information services for Pike Township. She’s cautiously supportive of the IPS, Chamber partnership but critical of Ferebee.
"I’m not for the referendum. So we need to be extremely transparent, put it on paper, present it to the public and get feedback,” Shelton said at a school board candidate forum. “Because if I can’t see it no I don’t want my parents that are 86 and 88 having their property taxes increased.”
All the candidates in this race agree the district needs more quality schools in poor areas, on higher teacher pay and that something must be done to decrease the district’s deficit. But how? That’s the difference told in part by the organizations that do – and do not – endorse them.