The Recorder, Chalkbeat and WFYI held a forum with Indianapolis Public School Board candidates on Oct. 16 at Central Library. I was pleased to see so many people take time out of their day to attend the forum.
In addition to the referendums on the ballot, three IPS school board seats, districts 3 and 5 and at-large, are up for election.
All eight candidates attended the forum. Susan Collins and Jodi Krumel are running against incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan for the at-large seat. In District 5, incumbent Dorene Rodriguez Hoops faces challenger Taria Slack. Evan Hawkins, Michele Lorbieski and Sherry Lynne Shelton are vying for the District 3 seat currently held by Kelley Bentley. Bentley opted not to seek re-election.
I came away from the forum impressed with the candidates’ knowledge of the issues facing IPS, and many of them had plans to address those issues should they win a seat on the board. For instance when asked about if they support the $272 million referendums, most said they do. However, Shelton doesn’t. Shelton wants a see a “roadmap” of exactly how the money will be spent on teachers and a commitment to following that plan before giving her support, she said.
In total, $220 million will go toward operating expenses, which funds teacher pay.
The candidates handled the questions from both the moderator and the audience well. I’m always curious to see how those running for election respond to questions from the audience as there’s no way to really prepare for those.
What impressed me most, however, is five of the candidates are parents of current IPS students. This means these parents have first-hand knowledge of how the district is operating. When asked about school choice and the closing of high schools throughout IPS, Krumel, whose son attends Arsenal Technical High School, voiced her displeasure at the way the changes were implemented, saying it caused a disruption to the magnet school program at Arsenal Tech. A better option, she said, would’ve been to start the choice program in kindergarten and have older students grandfathered in so they don’t have to choose new programs in high school.
On the topic of innovation schools, Slack, who has two children who attend Cold Spring School, would like to stop replicating the innovation school model until it’s proven to receive expected results. She says teachers and principals have left without notice.
Like Krumel and Slack, several of the candidates mentioned many parents feel overlooked and voiceless regarding decisions made by IPS Supt. Lewis Ferebee and the School Board of Commissioners. Instead of complaining — and only complaining — about what the board is or isn’t doing, these parents decided to run for a seat on the board. I applaud them as well as the other candidates for the desire to be change agents. Most of us want change, but only a few are willing to actually get involved to make it a reality. Being a board member requires a major time commitment. Board members must pore over tons of documents, attend public meetings, executive and work sessions. For many board members, all of this is done in addition to full-time jobs and raising a family. I don’t envy their responsibility.
With that said, my admiration doesn’t come without accountability. Individuals who make the decision to run for a seat on the board are accountable to their constituents — something that shouldn’t be forgotten in the busy-ness of being a board member.
The forum wasn’t my first time hearing school boards are unresponsive to parents. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true or not. It’s the perception and perception is reality. Regardless of who wins a seat on the board, it’s imperative that those newly elected individuals don’t fall victim to the same behavior they complained about.
Update: This column was changed to reflect the correct cost of the operating referendum.