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Mayor Greg Ballard signs the city's preschool ordinance in December at Warren Township Schools.

Mayor Greg Ballard signs the city’s preschool ordinance in December at Warren Township Schools.

In one month, mayoral race could take education in a new direction

The city of Indianapolis has had a very consistent approach to education for the past 12 years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson, who served from 2000 to 2008, pushed for the authority to become the first mayor in the country to sponsor charter schools. After Mayor Greg Ballard defeated Peterson, he largely maintained policies to grow charter schools and pressure Indianapolis Public Schools to make reforms to improve test scores and graduation rates.

But the 2015 election, coming fast just a month from today, is a departure after 12 years in that neither candidate is a slam-dunk to continue on the same path.

But neither Democrat Joe Hogsett nor his Republican opponent Chuck Brewer is pushing a radically different direction for education either. Both have laid out some of their ideas for improving schools.

In an interview with Chalkbeat last year, Hogsett said he viewed the mayor’s role as more of a “cheerleader” for schools and a “convener” of discussion about how to improve them. That could be very different than the activist role played by Peterson and Ballard.

Even so, don’t expect big changes, he said.

“I have been supportive of the good things Bart Peterson has done and this administration, Mayor Ballard’s administration, has done,” Hogsett told Chalkbeat. “Generally speaking, if elected mayor, I would not advocate fundamentally shifting direction or rolling back the gains that have been made.”

Hogsett praised IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, but also raised the possibility that the school board should have both elected and appointed members. He said he’d push for an expansion of support for preschool and pitched an idea to offer free or low cost home to teachers who agree to work in the city’s neediest schools.

Last week, Hogsett told the Indianapolis Star he thought charter schools and district schools should be able to co-exist. But he hinted he might not push as aggressively for new charter schools as Ballard has.

“As it relates to mayoral-sponsored charter schools, I’m going to focus on quality more than I am on quantity,” Hogsett told the Star.

Brewer was more direct about his plans for the IPS school board when he announced his education plan in June. He wants to overhaul the board by expanding it to nine members with the two additional board members appointed by the mayor.

The goal, he said, is better cooperation between the city and the school district in service of students.

Chuck Brewer outlined his education priorities in June at Indianapolis Public School 60.

Chuck Brewer outlined his education priorities in June at Indianapolis Public School 60.

Shaina Cavazos

“The two mayoral appointments will provide the opportunity for solid positive impact while respecting the democratic process and the role of the seven elected IPS board members,” he said while announcing his plan.

Brewer promised to hire a new deputy mayor for education replacing Jason Kloth, who left this summer. That role is key to the mayor’s charter school efforts. He said he would extend the charter school work to include workforce development efforts.

Brewer said he would push tougher accountability for poor performing charter schools and continue Ballard’s expansion of charter schools in the city.

But Brewer also told the Star that he rooting for traditional public schools to win the competition with charter schools. But in the mean time, he said, charter schools can help “bridge the gap.”

Another idea Brewer included in his education plan was an expansion of summer jobs for teens. The city, he said, should create an online database of jobs for high school students.