Three Indianapolis Public Schools board seats are up for grabs this November, and 10 candidates have entered the race — including at least five parents who currently have students in district schools. There are two incumbents in the race, as well as a retired teacher. The deadline to file was noon on Friday.
The outcome of the election could have an enduring impact on the future of the district. Under Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, the current seven-member school board has largely supported controversial policies, such as partnering with charter operators to restart low-performing schools and closing three of the district’s seven high schools. But members are not always unanimous in their votes, and new voices on the board could shift or upend the consensus at a pivotal moment.
The race to represent the entire district has four candidates running for one at-large seat.
Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan is a former Democratic state lawmaker who was elected to the school board in 2014. Since then, she has supported policies such as giving school leaders more flexibility and partnering with charter schools.
Sullivan said that she is running for reelection to follow through on the changes the district has made in recent years.
“We’ve gone through a lot of pain to get to the point where we can now start implementing things,” she told Chalkbeat earlier this month. “It’s just really, really, really, important that we don’t throw things into reverse.”
Susan Collins is a veteran educator who now coordinates tutoring for Dockside Services, a contractor for the Department of Child Services and other agencies. A graduate of Manual High School, Collins taught in Indianapolis Public Schools for more than 17 years before retiring in 2012, she said.
She said she wants to see teachers earn more, schools improved rather than closed, and more input from parents. “I would like to bring a voice of the people … and the voice of the teachers to the school board,” she said. “I would like to defend IPS.”
Joanna Elizabeth Krumel, who goes by Jodi, became involved in Indianapolis Public Schools through her work as a parent in the district. Her son is a senior in the Arsenal Technical High School’s math and science magnet program, and when he was a student at Harshman Middle School, she led the parent-teacher-student association.
Krumel said she is running for the board because, from her vantage point, the district has declined in recent years. She noted a number of experienced teachers have left her son’s school.
“As I am watching my son graduate, I want IPS to be what it was when he was younger,” she said. “I still have this hopeless optimism that we can get back to that.”
Candidate Mary Hampo-Stanley could not be reached Friday for comment.
In declaring their candidacy, contenders are required to submit only their names, addresses, phone numbers, and signatures from 10 voters in the same board district.
Four candidates are also running for a single District 3 seat, which represents the north side of the district. It is now held by board member Kelly Bentley, who is not running for reelection.
Evan Hawkins is a parent at the Center for Inquiry at School 70, a K-8 International Baccalaureate magnet school. He works as executive director of facilities and procurement at Marian University, and he previously worked as chief operating officer for the Tindley charter network.
Hawkins said he is running for the board because he wants to increase student access to thriving schools.
“I know what it means to walk into a school where you can feel the special sauce and the brew,” he told Chalkbeat earlier this month. “Every kid should have and experience what that means.”
Michele Lorbieski is a trial attorney with Frost Brown Todd, who has also volunteered with nonprofits serving children, such as School on Wheels and the Starfish Initiative. Lorbieski moved from Carmel so her daughter could attend Indianapolis Public Schools.
The desire to improve the district’s lowest-performing schools inspired her to run for school board. She said her daughter got lucky, having gotten into School 91, a popular K-8 Montessori magnet school.
“I really think people need to think about IPS as a whole, as a neighborhood, and focus on making sure everybody is getting educational opportunities,” Lorbieski said.
Sherry Lynne Shelton is a graduate of Broad Ripple High School and a lifelong resident of the Butler Tarkington neighborhood. After nearly two decades as an educational technology consultant, she took a job as director of information services for Pike Township schools.
Shelton said she is running for the board because she wants students in the district to have the same opportunities, regardless of what school they attend. “I’d like to kind of level the playing field,” she said.
Candidate Ellis Stephen Noto could not be reached Friday for comment.
The race to represent District 5, which covers the northwest section of Indianapolis Public Schools, has fewer contenders.
Incumbent Dorene Rodriguez Hoops will face her first election for a seat on the board, after having been appointed in 2016. Hoops has two children at the Center for Inquiry at School 2, a K-8 International Baccalaureate magnet school. A former human resources executive, she left her job to care for her son, who has cerebral palsy.
Hoops said that as a board member, she wants to push for more involvement from families and the community. “It’s looking at community engagement differently,” she said, noting that she wants the district “to hear from the community as things are happening.”
Taria Slack has two children at Cold Spring School, a K-6 environmental studies innovation school, and one in preschool in School 44. Slack works for the federal government, on disability claims and within the retirement system.
Slack said that she is running for the school board because she wants to push the administration to improve communication and transparency with the community. She said concerns around student safety are driving down enrollment.
“People don’t feel like their kids are being safe,” she said.