Annie Roof appears poised to become the new president of the Indianapolis Public School Board.Several board members said Roof had majority support and was expected to beat out Michael Brown, who had also declared his interest in the job. The board’s annual organizational meeting, originally scheduled for today but cancelled due to weather, is expected to be rescheduled for later this week.
In interviews, both Roof and Brown acknowledged they planned to seek the presidency for 2014.
Last year’s board president, Diane Arnold, did not seek the post again and declared her support for Roof. Sam Odle, who considered challenging Arnold for the presidency last year, is not seeking the post this time. He could not be reached for comment.
Arnold said she was approached by more than one board member asking her to stay on. But she declined, saying she wasn’t sure she could win majority support again and pledging early to back Roof.
“I had been asked to consider running but I had already pledged my support to Annie,” she said.
Roof, 36, is entering the last year of her first four-year term on the board. She and her husband are graduates of IPS and their three children all attend IPS schools. She is undecided as to whether she will seek reelection this fall. Roof graduated from Howe High School, one of four IPS schools severed from the district by state takeover after six straight years of failing grades based on low test scores. It is now run by Charter Schools USA under a contract with the Indiana State Board of Education.
In her three years on the board, Roof has agitated for the district to change and for the board and superintendent to be more open in explaining their decisions and sharing information with the public. Since the sea-change election of 2012, she has been supportive of many ideas presented by the three newly elected board members but not fully allied with them. In 2013, Roof proposed a plan the board adopted to reduce the amount of flavored milk served in IPS schools. She also voted for a controversial cost-cutting plan that included layoffs last spring.
Brown is the last remaining member of the board who was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Eugene White. He voted against the buyout plan for White last January, saying it would be better for the district if he stayed. Brown also was the only board member who voted against the layoff plan, calling it unfair to some district employees.
Brown, who has served on the board since 1998 and been board president several times in the past, said his knowledge of the political and media landscapes of the city could help new Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.
“I feel that my experience is needed as we have a new superintendent who is new to our city and young,” Brown said.
Roof said IPS needs more community engagement and a school board president who can focus energy on building relationships.
“I feel I have the experience and the time to give to the position,” she said. “I want the good side of IPS to be apparent to the city. Also, I hope to lead the board in creating a trusting and supportive relationship with Dr. Ferebee.”
Roof repeatedly advocated for more transparency and public input over her term, organizing meetings last year to gather community feedback during the superintendent search.
“I want to help preserve public education and local government in Indianapolis,” she said.
Arnold led the board through a difficult year. In 2013, the board ousted White, hired Peggy Hinckley as interim superintendent, selected Ferebee and approved layoffs due to budget woes. After a bumpy start, Arnold received praise for her leadership, especially for helping to unify the board during the superintendent search.
But some board members chafed at some of her decisions, notably her support of Hinckley when other board members opposed her plan to hire a consultant she had worked with in the past to provide services for George Washington High School.
Hinckley resigned early when some board members questioned the ethics of recommending her former business partner. Arnold said Hinckley did nothing wrong and the consultant ultimately was backed by Ferebee and hired in a closed vote by the board.
“New blood might be good,” said Arnold said.
Roof, Arnold and Samantha Adair-White often voted together as a minority faction who opposed some of former superintendent White’s policies prior to the 2012 election. That vote changed the board, replacing three of White’s supporters with new board members who favored changing the way IPS was managed.
The new board initially struggled to forge a new identity, as board members publicly complained about everything from their colleagues’ policy positions to meeting attendance.
But the board coalesced around the hiring of Ferebee and most of the public bickering subsided.