The largest donors to Indianapolis Public Schools board candidates were two local political groups with competing visions for the district’s future.
The political action committee affiliated with the Indy Chamber gave close to $50,000 to three school board candidates — an investment that only helped them win one seat — according to annual campaign finance disclosures released this week.
The donations come at a time when the local chamber of commerce is increasingly entwined with the district. The business group formed a partnership with the district in September to help implement a cost-cutting plan, which was the culmination of months of negotiations. The chamber, in turn, was an influential backer of two referendums that helped raise funds for the district. In addition to vocally supporting the tax measures, the political action committee gave more than $50,000 to that campaign.
The candidates that the chamber supported were all endorsed by Stand for Children, a parent organizing group that supports strategies such partnerships with charter operators. All three candidates were seen as allies of former-superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration.
The referendums passed easily, but the chamber was not as successful when it came to the school board. Only one of the contenders they backed, Evan Hawkins, won a seat. Incumbents Mary Ann Sullivan and Dorene Rodríguez Hoops were defeated. The group’s contributions included cash and in-kind donations such as consulting.
The largest donor in the race was the political arm of the state teachers union, which contributed $68,400 to three candidates who all expressed criticism of Ferebee’s administration, as Chalkbeat reported in October. That group backed Michele Lorbieski, who lost to Hawkins, as well Susan Collins and Taria Slack, who defeated incumbents to win seats on the board.
The latest disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana —Sullivan, Hoops, and Hawkins — likely received significant unreported benefits. The group typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee.
Here are some of the most notable contributions from campaign disclosures:
The Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which supported the referendums for additional funding for the school system, raised more than $397,000 last year. By far the largest donor was Stand for Children, which donated nearly $328,000.
Susan Collins, who won her school board election, raised nearly $17,000. The bulk of that money came from a $15,000 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.
Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, who lost to Collins, raised almost $34,000. That included more than $14,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, $5,000 from Reid Hoffman (a LinkedIn co-founder known for political spending), and $2,000 from Laurene Powell Jobs.
A third at-large candidate, Joanna Krumel, who also lost to Collins, raised $200.
Evan Hawkins, who won a seat, raised nearly $35,000. That included about $14,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee and $1,000 Jonathan Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA.
Michele Lorbieski, who lost to Hawkins, raised almost $28,000, primarily from a $24,900 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.
A disclosure for Sherry Shelton, who also lost to Hawkins, has not been posted by the Marion County Election Board. Her latest disclosure showed she raised had raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed.
Taria Slack, who won the election, raised nearly $30,000, including a $28,500 contribution from the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education.
Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, who lost to Slack, raised almost $41,000. That included more than $20,000 from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, and $5,000 from Hoffman.