Obscure state law could shake up the race for the IPS board

Less than two weeks before the election for Indianapolis Public Schools board, a little-known law could throw a wrench in the race for one candidate.

Indiana law says that no more than two of the seven Indianapolis Public Schools board members may live in one district. That could be a problem for Joanna Krumel, one of three candidates for an at-large seat on the board, who lives in District 2—where two incumbent board members who are not up for election already live.

If Krumel wins on Nov. 6, her victory could open the door to a legal challenge of her election—but the results of a similar case 10 years ago suggest she could still serve on the board.

In a phone call Thursday, Krumel said she was not aware of the law until contacted by Chalkbeat. “I had no idea,” Krumel said. “I don’t have an attorney, so I was going by what the election board had given me.”

Krumel, who goes by Jodi, said she plans to consult with the election board and an attorney before deciding what to do. But, ultimately, she said she agreed with the premise that three board members should not come from the same district.

“I’m a firm believer of true representation,” said Krumel. “I understand the importance of having more voices on the board to actually listen. The board is elected to represent the district.”

She added, however, that she wishes the Marion County Election Board had caught the issue when she filed her candidacy.

Krumel, who raised less money than the other candidates and was not endorsed by either of the political groups shaping the election, said she is trying to show that even a regular parent without outside support can win a seat. She is facing Mary Ann Sullivan and Susan Collins in the election for the at-large seat.

IPS is segmented into five districts, and each district has its own representative on the board. Two at-large board members represent the entire school district, and at-large candidates may be from anywhere in the district.

State law, however, specifies that only two IPS board members may live in each district. In practice, that means the two at-large members should not be from the same district. Krumel lives in District 2, where current at-large board member Elizabeth Gore lives, according to Zachary Mulholland, the administrator for the IPS board. Gore’s seat is not up for reelection, so she will serve on the board, as will board member Venita Moore, who represents District 2.

The only way the Marion County Election Board would not place Krumel on the ballot is if someone filed a successful challenge to her eligibility—and nobody has, said Russell Hollis, deputy director of the Marion County Clerk’s Office. It is too late for Krumel to withdraw from the race.

Mulholland said that when he noticed the issue, he raised it with the Marion County Election Board. But ultimately, he is unsure how it will be resolved.

This issue has come up at least once before. In that case, the candidate who won the election was seated, but there was a protracted court battle.

Ten years ago, two at-large seats for the IPS board were up for election at the same time, an unusual situation since the seats are typically elected on alternating cycles. Ultimately, the candidates who won both at-large seats were from the same district.

In a weird twist, one of winning candidates was current board member Gore. The candidate Gore defeated, incumbent board member Clarke Campbell, took the case to court. Campbell sued the district, arguing the results violated the same part of state law that applies in Krumel’s case.

But the Marion County Superior Court and the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the election results. The appeals court’s majority said that the section of law that states the candidate who gets the most votes trumps the rules about location.

“We cannot agree with Campbell’s assertion that geographic diversity should prevail over the will of the electorate,” the majority decision said. “Geographic diversity was not our legislature’s overriding concern.”

The appeals court urged lawmakers to fix the rare conflict, but the law remains unchanged.

Bill Groth, who represented Gore in the 2008 case, said based on the precedent, if a similar situation were to occur again, he’d expect the same result.

“The candidate who receives the most votes would be certified and seated on the board even if that meant three members would be from the same district,” Groth said.

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

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