IPS critics poised to defeat incumbents in school board shakeup

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Vocal critics of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration looked poised to unseat two incumbents in Tuesday’s school board election. The early results signaled opposition to sweeping moves that have reshaped the district, such as high school closings and partnerships with charter school operators.

With 592 out of 600 precincts reporting Wednesday, the race for the at-large seat remained close, with retired IPS teacher Susan Collins leading with 43.7 percent of votes, over incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former board president. Sullivan held 42.4 percent of the vote, and Joanna Krumel, another challenger, had 13.9 percent. Meanwhile, Taria Slack, a federal worker, was leading incumbent Dorene Rodriguez Hoops with 59.1 percent of the vote to represent the northwest side of the district.

Marion County did not have enough people Tuesday night to finish counting ballots, clerk spokesman Russell Hollis said. Votes from the remaining 60 precincts, in addition to about 50,000 absentee ballots, were being county Wednesday.

“We got to have all the votes counted,” Sullivan said Tuesday night. “I will go to bed and see what happens in the morning.”

But school choice supporters appeared set to hold onto one of the three seats up for election: Evan Hawkins, a Marian University administrator who is supportive of school choice policies, was winning with 51.1 percent of the vote to replace retiring school board member Kelly Bentley and represent the district’s north side. The other candidates in that race trailed, with Michele Lorbieski garnering 34 percent of votes and Sherry Shelton at 14.9 percent.

The early results could represent a partial but significant win for district critics, who have previously struggled to gain a foothold on the school board. While they would likely still make up a minority of the seven-member board, their presence could pose a challenge to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s policies, which have vaulted Indianapolis to a national spotlight among supporters of education reform.

Dountonia Batts, executive director of the IPS Community Coalition, which organizes parents and often speaks against the current administration, said she was elated with the early results. The coalition backed Slack and Collins during the election.

“With a little money, a coordinated effort of grassroots community members coming together, sharing resources, sharing volunteers … I mean it’s just amazing,” Batts said Tuesday night. “We’re excited to get to work.”

Slack and Collins have criticized IPS for a lack of financial transparency, opposed the closing of four high schools this past year, and are not convinced that the district’s strategy to create innovation schools and partner with charter operators will improve opportunities for students.

Hawkins, meanwhile, could lend support to other board members who have supported charter partnerships and closing underutilized campuses.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in the course of this election, it’s that it takes real guts and grit to put yourself in front of your own community and ask for the privilege to lead,” Hawkins said in a statement sent out by his campaign.

His stance on innovation schools won him a vote from Lynn Dimond, who cast her ballot at an American Legion post off Broad Ripple Avenue.

“I like the idea of partnership with some of the charter schools,” Dimond said. “Instead of being competitors, it's them working together.”

Hawkins and Slack are also both IPS parents. Slack said she wants to ensure parents have more of a voice in the district and that teachers feel respected. Her win came from people in her community “hitting the pavement,” she said.

“I’m so happy to be able to serve my community,” Slack said. “We’ve really been out there digging our feet in.”

Outside the Harrison Center for the Arts, middle school teacher Nathan Blevins made a quick pitch to voters Tuesday: “Schoolteachers’ choices for school board!” he said, his voice ringing out to voters entering the building.

Blevins was handing out flyers that listed the candidates supported by the state and local teachers unions, including Slack, Lorbieski, and Collins. He said the board needs “fresh faces” who are less supportive of closing traditional public schools and partnering with charter schools.

One voter he persuaded was Katherine Carlton Robinson, who said she didn’t know much about the school board candidates ahead of the election. She voted for Slack and Collins because Blevins said these were the candidates teachers supported.

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

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