IPS At-Large School Board Race

IPS board president gets tough challengers in hard-fought at-large race

Indianapolis Public School Board President Annie Roof is outnumbered and will all but certainly be far outspent in her bid to be re-elected to a second four-year term on Nov. 4.

Can she survive? And, if not, will her replacement be more or less likely to push big changes for IPS?

Four challengers, some very well-funded, are making strong pitches to replace her:

  • Former Democratic state Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan who is perhaps the state’s highest profile Democrat who favors reforms like charter schools.
  • David Hampton, the pastor of a large church who has ties to some of the city’s school reform leaders.
  • Josh Owens, a Butler University economics instructor with an interest in market-based reform.
  • Ramon Batts, also a pastor, is a charter school skeptic who coaches IPS sports teams.

Roof, a district graduate and parent of three IPS students, said her grassroots campaign will counter the tens of thousands of dollars some of her opponents are spending. Her at-large seat on the board is the only one of three up for a vote this year that encompasses the whole city, not just certain neighborhoods. With five candidates in what is expected to be a low-turnout race, some see the outcome as unpredictable.

In her four years on the board, Roof has walked a fine line between being a full-fledged member of a voting bloc pushing hard for fast and wide-ranging changes in IPS and an occasional skeptic of some of their plans. She’s been mostly supportive of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who so far in his one-year tenure has worked with some of the district’s traditional critics, such as those in the business community, in ways IPS has sometimes been reluctant to do in recent years.

Annie Roof

“I think that I’m going to reclaim the word reform and call myself a reformer,” Roof said.

Aiming to draw a contrast, Roof said she won’t take out-of-state contributions. She’s raised about $4,200 so far, according to her most recent campaign finance report. By comparison, Sullivan has more than $50,000 and Hampton has more than $20,000. Some of Sullivan’s benefactors are wealthy, and even famous, but not in Indiana — LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and his wife, each gave her $1,000, for example. But most of Sullivan’s contributors are local.

Mary Ann Sullivan
Mary Ann Sullivan

Sullivan shares many of her views about education with Hampton. Both favor the idea of IPS partnering with charter schools. They both have strong ties to the education advocacy community: Sullivan was endorsed by Stand for Children and Hampton has worked with The Mind Trust on education issues. Stand for Children and The Mind Trust both advocate for change in the district.

Sullivan and Hampton also both are pushing for the district to revamp its system for paying teachers and want to see the city expand access to preschool.

Stand for Children’s executive director Justin Ohlemiller mentioned both of the candidates as preferred options in a recent interview with Chalkbeat — but the group only officially endorsed Sullivan.

David Hampton
David Hampton

“It’s a great sign that we’ve got the likes of Mary Ann Sullivan and Dr. David Hampton running to help improve IPS,” Ohlemiller said. “Those are great, high quality leaders.”

But the two have one obvious ideological difference: Hampton sends his child to a private school and favors publicly-funded tuition vouchers that poor children can use to attend private schools. Sullivan voted against creating the voucher program as a state legislator.

Owens is less known to the city’s school reform community, but shares some of the ideology common to that group: he believes students will benefit from stronger connections between IPS and the business community. He argues the business community can better support IPS with stronger connections that provide opportunities for the district’s students.

Owens, who got his start working in analytics and marketing at Angie’s List, said he believes he will push hardest for big changes.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to put more resources in the classroom,” Owens said. “I’m happy to work with whoever feels like they can provide that.”

Josh Owens

There is one flat-out skeptic of the district’s recent reforms in the race: Batts, who coaches sports teams at Arsenal Tech High School and is a former full-time employee of the district. But it’s not clear his message is catching on, at least with people who give money to school board candidates. He  has raised just $525 for his school board campaign so far, according to his latest campaign finance report.

Batts said he said he’s passionate about the impact that parental involvement can make in kids’ lives. He wants to decrease discipline levels for African American boys, which are higher in the district than other groups of students, and reverse the “school to prison pipeline,” he said.

Batts, who ran for the school board in both 2010 and 2012, opposes partnerships between IPS and charter schools and the idea of creating autonomous IPS schools. He’s also skeptical of the Republican-controlled state legislature, and Ferebee’s friendliness to groups he believes want to dismantle the district.

“This experimenting with our children has to stop,” Batts said. “We have to stop looking at them as seats and dollars. We’ve got to change the direction that education is going in our city.”

Other than Batts, the challengers and the incumbent, Roof, share many viewpoints.

When it comes to some of the reforms Sullivan, Hampton and Owens support, Roof’s voting record shows she’s been helping to usher in changes favored by Sullivan, Hampton and Owens during her term, including charter school partnerships and a cut in the number of administrators in IPS’s central office.

Ramon Batts

Roof said she ran for the school board in 2010 in part because of her skepticism of former Superintendent Eugene White’s performance and was seen at the time as a voice for change. She’s usually a part of the board’s now-majority voting bloc that ultimately bought out White’s contract and hired Ferebee.

But that didn’t win her support from Stand for Children or the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, which both chose to endorse Sullivan. Instead sought and gained the support of the Indiana State Teachers Association, which she said sent her a letter endorsing her and promised a contribution of $1,500 for her campaign.

Roof has pushed her view, shared by ISTA, that there is too much standardized testing in schools, and has said she wants higher salaries for IPS teachers.

Being endorsed by the ISTA brought tears to my eyes,” Roof wrote. “In the last six years they have not been given a raise. Four years have been on my watch. To me, it means that we have been open, and honest with one another.”

The election is Nov. 4. To compare candidates’ thoughts on key issues, visit Chalkbeat’s interactive election tracker. Hear from the candidates yourself at a forum tonight at the Central Library featuring the five at-large candidates starting at 5:30 p.m.

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.


Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.


words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.