Challengers crush all three IPS school board members in election

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Indianapolis Public Schools Board candidates debate the issues at Chalkbeat and WFYI's forum hosted at the Central Library.

Advocates for big changes in Indianapolis Public Schools trounced three sitting board members tonight in a landslide election that saw big-spending challengers roll to easy wins.

Former state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan won the at-large seat with 46 percent of the vote, 26 percentage points ahead of school board president Annie Roof, with 99 precincts reporting, according to final, unofficial results from the Marion County Board of Elections.


Ex-school board member Kelly Bentley took back her District 3 seat from Samantha Adair-White with 55 percent of the vote and a 19-point win. And charter school dean LaNier Echols cruised to a surprisingly easy win over IPS’s longest-serving board member Michael Brown by 12 points with 56 percent of the vote.

Sullivan, Echols and Bentley had raised more than $100,000 in October, according to filings with the Marion County Board of Elections, while the incumbents had about $6,000. The challengers also received huge support from outside groups like Stand For Children, which advocates for change in the district and ran its own campaign to support them.

The newly elected school board members will help make a new majority, expected to push even more strongly for reforms like making schools more autonomous, reducing the size of IPS’s central office and partnering with charter schools. A spokeswoman for Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who has also backed many of those ideas, said he had no comment on the outcome of the race.

“Knowing up front that you already agree on the basics and the the underlying premise for your decision making, hopefully we won’t have to waste a lot of time in establishing where we all want to go,” Sullivan said.

The school board races drew a wide field of candidates, with 10 candidates seeking the three seats.

Pastor David Hampton — also a big fundraiser with more than $20,000 reported in October — turned out not to be a major threat in the race. He finished as the third-runner up in the at-large race with about 17 percent of the vote, followed by Ramon Batts, also a pastor and an IPS athletic coach, who had 9 percent of the vote and Butler University economics professor Josh Owens with 7 percent of the vote.


In District 3, incumbent Samantha Adair-White was never a serious threat to keep her seat tonight, gaining just 26 percent of the vote. Charter school dean James Turner walked away with nearly 20 percent. Brown managed just 46 percent of the vote in a district he’d won four straight times.

The loss of Roof and Adair-White means there will no longer be any school board members with children who currently attend the district’s schools.

The race was marked by clashes over campaign finance and large contributions coming in from out-of-state donors. The brand of school reform that Sullivan, Bentley and Echols favor relies on partners outside the district to help improve the district’s schools. They also want to restructure teacher pay and shrink the central office even further than Ferebee already has.

LaNier Echols

“IPS must fundamentally change and we cannot manage this change without the expertise of many outside organizations,” Bentley told Chalkbeat last month. “Collaboration isn’t a bad thing especially when the result of the collaboration helps kids.”

But the winners also have been criticized as being too friendly to outside groups who are competing with the district for students and resources. Roof said at a Chalkbeat election forum that the large campaign contributions to Sullivan, Bentley and Echols signal that.

“I think it makes it seem like we’re profitable, and that’s what people are looking for,” Roof said.

For more on the candidates positions, visit Chalkbeat’s election tracker. For more results from other school board races, visit our live election results page.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.