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Challengers crush all three IPS school board members in election

November 4, 2014
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Advocates for big changes in Indianapolis Public Schools trounced three sitting board members Tuesday night 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, according to final, unofficial results from the Marion County Election Board.

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 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.

“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.

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Recent Articles by Scott Elliott, Chalkbeat Indiana

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