On Oct. 5, the men and women vying for seats on the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Board of Commissioners will have an opportunity to address the public at a forum held by WFYI, Chalkbeat Indiana and the Indianapolis Recorder.
Each of the 10 candidates will offer their views on the current state of the district and answer a host of questions from reporters representing each news outlet.
The forum will be broken into two sessions: from 5–6:15 p.m., attendees will hear from candidates representing Districts 1 and 2; District 4 and At-Large candidates will speak from 6:30-7:45 p.m.
District 3 (Kelly Kennedy Bentley), District 5 (Lanier Echols) and the other At-Large seat, held by Board President Mary Ann Sullivan, are not up for election until November 2018.
The IPS race has been a contentious one thus far. Earlier this month, Our IPS and the Concerned Clergy released a “report card” that graded each of the candidates based on information gathered from their attendance at community education forums and surveys distributed to them by Our IPS. In the release, David Greene, president of the organization and senior pastor of Purpose of Life Ministries, said the purpose of the card is to help voters make informed decisions.
“Many of the people our organizations interact with have serious concerns about the lack of accountability the current school board demands of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee,” said Greene.
The group gave incumbents Michael O’Connor (District 1), Diane Arnold (District 4) and Sam Odle (At-Large) an “F” in nearly every grading category: student achievement, school discipline/safety, support of traditional public school model, accountability, recruitment of high-quality employees and transparency/communication with stakeholders.
The group has publicly endorsed Larry Vaughn (running in District 4), who has been very vocal in his opposition to the board; Christine Prince, a registered nurse running in District 1; Jim Grimm, who is running for Odle’s At-Large seat; and Ramon Batts, an IPS alum and former employee who is seeking the District 2 spot.
The current District 2 Commissioner Gayle Cosby, who is not seeking reelection, shared with the Recorder that her time on the board was an immense learning experience. Cosby is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in urban education at IUPUI.
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount during my time about the politics of this city and how power plays are made. I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it takes to fight the good fight. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, but oh so worthwhile when you gain a little bit of traction.”
Prior to being elected to the board in 2012, Cosby’s awareness came directly from the vantage point of the classroom; the board engagement, in her opinion, opened her eyes to what happens at the highest levels of leadership in the district. “It’s taught me how to collaborate and compromise and how to fight. I’m going to continue to fight, just within a different role.”
Cosby’s well-documented polarity has, for some, been a welcome alternative voice in matters of public education, as she has frequently been referred to as the only opinion of opposition on the board.
“It’s incredibly important for the future of IPS for there to be a diversity of thought on the board, whether that’s one person or four to five. Democracy is not possible without the voice of dissent,” she said. “I’ve been alone in my dissent, especially on the topics of innovation network schools and the privatization of public schools.”
For others, like current Commissioner Kelly Bentley who told Chalkbeat in January that Cosby’s departure is not “that much of a loss,” her absence may not leave much of a void.
When asked if she felt there was anyone currently running who could provide the sort of thought she’s come to be known for, Cosby was careful not to offer any specific endorsements, but she said she is aware of a grassroots coalition that may fill that void.
“What you have in my estimation is a war between the well-to-do folks in Indy who stand to profit from the privatization of our public schools versus the people who want to see public schools remain public and not profitable to anyone,” she said.
“What I discovered during my four years on the board is that what’s happening nationally is happening in Indianapolis. You have groups like the Gates Foundation, the Koch brothers and the Walton family — these uber-wealthy 1 percent — who are driving the agenda in education reform with philanthropic dollars,” she said.
Though Cosby received more than $10,000 in direct and in-kind contributions from Stand for Children (a 501c3 that received funding from the Gates Foundation) in 2012, she has since been highly critical of the organization.
“It’s important that people pay attention,” she said. “Being an engaged and informed voter in this election is more critical this time around than it has ever been before.”
IPS School Board candidates
Christine M. Prince
Ramon L. Batts
Nanci E. Lacy
Venita J. Moore
Elizabeth M. Gore
*Samuel L. Odle