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Mary Ann Sullivan, who was elected to the Indianapolis Public School Board in 2014, is expected to be named board president Friday.

Mary Ann Sullivan, who was elected to the Indianapolis Public School Board in 2014, is expected to be named board president Friday.

Mary Ann Sullivan: School board should be more welcoming to people and ideas

(Chalkbeat talked with the 10 candidates running for a spot on the Indianapolis Public Schools board about their backgrounds, educational philosophies, and why and how they want to influence the school district if they are elected Nov. 4. To compare their positions against other candidates, visit our interactive election tracker.)

Former state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan often made fellow Democrats squirm in her time at the Statehouse. It wasn’t unusual for her to be the lone vote on her side of the aisle in favor of ideas like charter schools, tougher teacher evaluation or limits on teacher union bargaining.

At a time when the Indianapolis Public School Board has become more open to ideas like partnering with charter schools, revamping teacher pay and giving principals more control over schools, Sullivan argues she would be the best fit among five candidates in her race.

Sullivan is running for an at-large seat against incumbent Annie Roof and three other challengers: Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, Butler University instructor Josh Owens, and IPS athletic coach Ramon Batts.

Here is what Sullivan told Chalkbeat about her background, goals for the district and thoughts on education issues:

(Meet the candidates: Attend Chalkbeat and WFYI’s Oct. 23 education conversation event at the Indianapolis Public Library)

She thinks “school autonomy” is more than just a buzzword.

“I want (principals’) decisions to be nimble, flexible and based in the actual population of kids that are there at a school,” Sullivan said. “Giving the schools that ability is a priority with me. I know there’s administrators out there who have things they want to do that, for whatever reason, they feel they don’t have the ability to do.”

Her daughter is an IPS teacher, and that has made her deeply concerned about issues like the district’s five-year pay freeze.

“I appreciate the difficulty of finding money in the budget,” Sullivan said. “Everyone wants to make more money, but if you’re already making a decent amount, it’s less worrisome. You have these young, talented teachers that are kind of stuck. I would be interested in trying to find (a system) that recognized the reality of the situation and how it plays out in people’s lives.”

Sullivan said endorsements from Stand for Children and the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce bolster her credentials.

“I was very pleased to get both of those endorsements,” Sullivan said. “I have a long history with the Chamber. They seem to be really engaged in a lot more city building. Hopefully it has the outcome of creating better economic development for the city. I really wanted to be endorsed by Stand.”

She wants to change the way the IPS school board operates.

“I think they need to meet way, way less,” Sullivan said. “I would like for the board to look at the policy manual and see whether it needs to be thrown in the trash or rewritten. I’m sensitive to the welcoming-ness of public entities. The meetings are overly formal and a little standoff-ish. It seems like a minor thing, but I’d like to change the feel and the atmosphere on that board so that it’s more of a real working together board.”

She’s allied with candidates Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols in the other board races — all three were endorsed by Stand for Children and the Chamber. She hopes they can be elected to work together. Otherwise she will draw on her statehouse experience to make compromises. 

“If I get elected with the team that’s been endorsed, I know we’ll share the same underlying principles,” Sullivan said. “If it’s a more mixed dynamic, then I’ll just pull on all my statehouse experience. I certainly dealt with a lot of people where we disagreed on maybe 80 percent or 90 percent of the issues. You can put your energy on the 20 or 10 percent you agree on.”

Read more: Six critical questions the IPS school board race will answer