Unanticipated resignation of IPS board member adds to uncertainty

A day before voters head to the polls, Chalkbeat Indiana learned that the Indianapolis Public Schools board will be changing even more than voters expected.

LaNier Echols, whose four-year term was not due to expire until 2018, confirmed Monday that she plans to resign in the near future.

That means that almost all the seats on the seven-member board could change hands in the next few months, with four seats up for grabs Tuesday. Echols’ seat will be filled by someone chosen by either the current board or the new board depending on when she formally resigns.

Echols, a former charter school principal, said she had intended to wait until after the election to announce her resignation to avoid distracting voters from the race.

“I did not want to say anything because of the chaos that’s occurring in this current election,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring any undue attention to me that needed to be given to the candidates who were being elected.”

Echols, who has a 7-month-old son, said her departure is related to family obligations. She said she has gone through several life changes since she decided to run for the board just over two years ago, including the death of her father, getting married and having a child.

She now plans on returning to Florida, where she attended high school, she said. Officials at the Carpe Diem Meridian charter school where Echols served as principal said she left her position in January or February.

“I wanted to be on the school board because of the children in Indianapolis Public Schools,” she said. “However, when you have your own children, you have to make some decisions.”

If Echols had resigned earlier in the election cycle, her seat representing District 5, which covers a slice of the district running northwest of downtown, would have been on the ballot along with the four other board members who are up for election. Echols said she knew she wanted to resign in late October.

Staff for Marion County Election Board could not immediately confirm how far in advance of the election Echols would have needed to resign for her seat to appear on the ballot. The deadline for candidates to enter the school board race was Aug. 26.

William Groth, an Indianapolis-based attorney who specializes in election issues, said that since the vacancy would not be for a seat that would normally be on the ballot, Indiana law does not explicitly say when Echols would have needed to resign.

“I don’t know that there is any clear answer,” he said. “It would be more of a pragmatic issue of whether the ballot could be prepared early enough.”

In a statement issued after this story published, the district said that the board would fill the seat within 30 days. Residents of District 5 who are interested in joining the board should send a resume and cover letter to mulhollandz@myips.org.

“Commissioner Echols has proudly served the students, families and neighbors of our northwest side,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said in the statement. “Our district has been fortunate to have her guidance, advocacy and support, and we wish her well.”

Coming less than 24 hours before Election Day, Echols’ announcement could shake up an already contentious race for control of the IPS board. With 10 candidates vying for four seats on the seven-member board, the balance of power is at stake in the election even without Echols’ seat.

Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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