An Indianapolis Public School Board voting district on the city’s North side has unique issues, and the three candidates seeking to represent it offer different prescriptions to solve its problems.
Kelly Bentley, seeking to return to the board after a four-year absence, thinks IPS needs to expand successful programs that attract families who have left the district in search of better quality. James Turner, a charter school athletic director and newcomer to school board politics, thinks IPS needs a stronger focus on the poor children of the North side. Incumbent Samantha Adair-White said the focus should be on good schools in every neighborhood, rather than concentrating on adding magnet schools.
The race for the District 3 seat is one of three IPS school board spots that are at on the ballot this fall. Ten people with opposing views on ideas like partnering with charter schools, teacher pay and how to manage the district’s central office are running.
Attracting families back to IPS
District 3, which stretches from neighborhoods north of downtown near 23rd Street to as far north as Broad Ripple and 71st Street, includes some of the district’s wealthiest families, and also some of its poorest. It includes the wealthy Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, where few residents send their kids to IPS schools past middle school.
The candidates are divided about how the district should respond.
Bentley said IPS should welcome those families back to the district by expanding high-performing schools in the neighborhood, like School 84, a Center for Inquiry magnet school.
“They have more demand than they have supply,” Bentley said. “If families aren’t getting into the school, they’re just not staying in the district.”
She said parents also want a high-quality, college preparatory high school option in the neighborhood. Gambold Preparatory on the Northwest side is an example of a new school designed to fill that need, Bentley said, but it’s too far away. There should be another option like that closer to Meridian-Kessler, she said.
“This is where a better business model would help IPS,” Bentley said. “The district has done a very poor job of asking parents want they want and trying to give it to them.”
Turner, who grew up across the street from Shortridge High School and now once again lives in that neighborhood, sees the area in a different light. Turner said IPS needs to focus on children who are already enrolled at the district but who are slipping through the cracks, not on people who have already chosen not to send their children to district schools.
“That’s a battle of mine,” he said. “They could care less about IPS schools.”
Adair-White argued IPS needs to build strong neighborhood schools. She also said the perception is wrong that IPS can simply expand magnet schools because they don’t have problems. Adair-White sent her children to School 84.
“Everybody thinks that School 84 (has) everything, that it’s perfect,” Adair-White said. “It’s not. It has issues like every other school that we have.”
Questions about partnerships
The three also don’t agree about how IPS should consider partnering outside of the district, such as with charter schools.
Adair-White said she is suspicious about the charter school companies that have expressed interest in partnering with IPS. Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has been more open than former Superintendent Eugene White was when it came to working with charter school organizations. He even testified in favor of a new state law that makes it easier for IPS to work with them.
“It’s funny to me that all of a sudden everyone wants to help,” Adair-White said. “It’s mind boggling to me that these companies want to come in and take a chance with us. Is it for my children or is for privatization? From what I see and what I experience on a day to day basis, it’s kind of hard to tell.”
Turner is also a skeptic of such partnerships, saying that charter schools seem to get more out of deals with IPS than the district gets.
“I think all schools — private, charter and IPS — can survive simultaneously,” Turner said. “I just don’t like our students to be sold.”
But Bentley said the city’s business community wants to work with the school district because its success directly affects them. And she said working with others is what will help IPS improve.
“Education is a big economic driver,” Bentley said. “We’re not going to have strong neighborhoods unless we have great schools. School board members sort of ignore that. That has to be a focus.”
Campaign fundraising is an issue
Another big issue in District 3 is who is supporting the candidates, and how much money they are raising.
Endorsed by both the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and advocacy group Stand For Children, which pushes for change in IPS, Bentley is raising big money, hiring workers to promote her at the polls and sending out mailers to registered voters. Bentley said last month she’s already raised more than $30,000. She hasn’t yet filed a campaign finance report with the city.
The idea that candidates were going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the race didn’t get a favorable reaction from potential voters at a candidate debate sponsored by the Indianapolis chapter of the NAACP and Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis earlier this month.
“I’m not going to apologize for raising money,” Bentley said. “That’s what you do when you’re a candidate. I find it humorous. It’s like an evil thing now that you have to raise money when you run for school board elections. That’s part of the process.”
Adair-White hasn’t received any endorsements, and said she is not concerned about winning or losing the election. She said she has raised about $1,500.
“This is not a political game,” Adair-White said. “I’m not competing with the money. The money is competing with me. I don’t need a dime. As long as I live, I’ll always be a cheerleader for my kids.”
At the NAACP event, Turner told the crowd he hadn’t yet raised any money. Turner is trying to engage the families of IPS students he’s worked with in the past to garner grassroots support for him.
“We have people raising enough money to almost run for mayor,” Turner said. “People raising that kind of money have political influence backing them. I question who’s influencing their decision-making. I’m doing it from the heart and from the hip. I’m endorsed by the students.”
The election is Nov. 4. To see where the District 3 candidates stand on other issues, visit Chalkbeat’s interactive election tracker at http://in.chalkbeat.org/IPSelection2014 or come to our event Oct. 23.