For the first time in years, some ballot races for the Indianapolis Public Schools board will not be competitive.
Two candidates are unopposed in separate races. A third seat attracted only two candidates. The three incumbent board members chose not to seek re-election after a single term.
This is a stark comparison to previous elections when multiple candidates sought the same seat. And donations from outside groups who support partnerships with charter schools played a significant role. In the 2020 election, more than $200,000 from political action committees was spent on four races. One incumbent who lost was outspent 72 to 1.
The filing deadline for school board candidates was noon Friday. The election is Nov. 8. Four candidates are running for three seats on the ballot for the IPS Board of School Commissioners.
School board members are nonpartisan officials elected by voters. They don’t manage the day-to-day of schools, but they approve the direction of the district, and what issues receive attention and resources
Board members also hire superintendents, oversee budgets, approve curriculum, and can vote on crucial policies — everything from the cost of text books, to whether students wear masks, and the permanent closure of a school.
In all, there are seven elected IPS board members — five reside in districts and represent specific neighborhood communities, and two are elected at-large.
Hope Y. Hampton and Kristen Elizabeth Phair are in the race for District 3. The jagged district boundary line includes the Northside, from Mapleton Fall Creek up through Broad Ripple, and a portion on the east to Forest Manor.
Hampton is the owner of Cozy, a local interior design company. She wants to hear community feedback about plans to improve the district, as well as other issues impacting K-12 education.
“In order for our schools to succeed, all parents and families need to be included and feel included, and I want to make sure that’s happening throughout this process,” Hampton said.
Phair is a parent of three district students and was formerly a state public defender for more than a decade. She wants to find solutions to the “glaring inequalities” in the district.
“We have schools that are significantly different in performing,” Phair said. “It is alarming and it is not new. There is an opening in my district [on the school board] and I want to contribute to this issue.”
Nicole Carey is uncontested for District 5. The east corner of the district boundary starts at 38th and Salem streets and stretches westward along 38th Street through Eagledale to Interstate 465, and includes part of Downtown and the Near Northside.
Carey is the founder of two local businesses: Anda Spanish, an early childhood language acquisition company; and she serves as the chief executive officer of Indy Equity Collaborative, a consulting firm that offers diversity, equity, and inclusion support to schools. Three of her five children attend IPS schools.
Carey wants the district to place more focus on equity and language justice strategies.
“We have a great district with great opportunities, we just have to make sure that we are showing our children those opportunities, and encouraging them to find what works for them,” Carey said.
Angelia L. Moore is running uncontested for the at-large seat that covers the entire district.
Moore is the deputy director of the Fay Biccard Glick Community Center. Previously, Moore worked for IPS as senior coordinator in portfolio management, the office that oversees charter schools in the district. She is an IPS alumna, three of her four children also graduated from the district, and one is still enrolled in the district.
“Even when we have to make those hard decisions around finances and facilities and things like that, are we putting kids first to make sure that we are producing students that are ready to become solid civilians and give back to the very community that educated them,” Moore said.
The winners of the election will face a transformative era of the district as families and community leaders increase demand for equity among schools and academic improvements for Black and Brown students.
When the three new members take office in January, the current seven-member board will likely have voted on a major and controversial restructure plan supported by Superintendent Aleesia Johnson that, if approved, is expected to include the closure of schools and changing grade configurations in most elementary schools.
Incumbents won’t seek re-election
The seats on the ballot are currently held by commissioners elected in 2018. The three incumbents — Evan Hawkins (District 3), Taria Slack (District 5) and Susan Collins (At-large) — chose to not seek re-election after a single term. Each cited the time commitment involved among their reasons for not running again.
The 2018 election was focused heavily on whether candidates agreed with then-Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s ongoing push to collaborate with charter schools and restart failing district schools with outside nonprofits and charter operators as the managers. Ferebee left the district at the end of 2018.
Collins and Slack campaigned as critics of Ferebee and their victories were significant as they ousted incumbent board members. Both received campaign support from I-PACE, the advocacy arm of the Indiana State Teachers Association that does not support innovation schools – charter schools operating independently within the district and not required to offer collective bargaining to teachers.
Over the years, Collins’ skepticism gave way to supporting some proposals opposed by Slack. Slack remained highly critical of the district’s growing support of charter school operators.
Hawkins favored some of Ferebee’s approach during the election and received campaign support from Stand for Children Indiana, the state chapter of a national education advocacy organization. Hawkins continued to support the reforms throughout his term as means to help students in the city. This year he was elected as board president by the other commissioners.
In the 2020 election, the four winners all supported charter-friendly reforms and Superintendent Johnson.
Hawkins said wanting to spend more time with his young daughters was a major reason to not run again.
“Serving my community as a member of the IPS School Board has been one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had,” Hawkins said in an email. “I still pinch myself when I consider that I was afforded the same opportunity to serve on the same School Board as my grandfather – nearly 65 years ago.”
Collins said she’s honored to have served the community, but is ready to slow down.
“I’d like to think I’ve served the Board and IPS well, but I also understand that with advancing age and declining energy, the work is for younger, fresher participants,” Collins said in an email. “I’m humbled by and proud of the work of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of Commissioners and the opportunity I have had to serve the district.”
In the days prior to Friday’s deadline, Slack told WFYI she was weighing the balance of family, work and starting a new businesses as part of her decision whether to run again. She did not file re-election paperwork.
This story was updated to reflect how long Kristen Elizabeth Phair served as a state public defender.
Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.