New IPS board members raised nearly $200K during campaign

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Mary Ann Sullivan is sworn in as an Indianapolis Public School Board member.

New Indianapolis Public School Board members Mary Ann Sullivan, Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols together raised nearly $200,000 last year to support their winning campaigns in what ended up as the most expensive school board election in the city’s recent history.

Three of the seven defeated candidates did not file final campaign finance reports by today’s deadline. Based on the reports that were filed with the Marion County Election Board, and prior reports filed in October, the losing candidates were known to have raised about $41,000.

Sullivan raised more than $73,000 for her campaign, followed by Echols with more than $65,000 and Bentley with more than $52,000.

But missing from campaign finance reports that were due today was any accounting of how much money was spent by outside interest groups, notably the advocacy group Stand for Children, an organization that pushes for change in IPS and in statewide education issues.

Stand for Children endorsed Sullivan, Bentley and Echols and ran independent campaigns on their behalf. They sent out mailers endorsing the candidates, and hired workers on Election Day to promote them outside the polls. But the group says it won’t say how much it spent on those efforts.

An end-of-year report filed with the Indiana Secretary of State said Stand for Children did not spend any money on the school board race through its political action committee, which was set up to support its political advocacy.

Instead, Stand for Children director Justin Ohlemiller said the group’s support of the school board candidates was paid through the organization’s national office, which is organized under a section of the tax code known as a 501(c)(4). Under the rules of that section, he said, the organization can be active in politics but is not required to disclose all its political activities. It also allowed the group to run its own autonomous campaigns on behalf of the candidates, instead of simply donating to their existing efforts.

Ohlemiller said there was nothing unusual about the group’s approach.

“We’re adhering to the law and what’s required for reporting,” he said. “There are (c)(4) organizations, not just ours, that activate around campaigns to elect leaders that the organization backs. This has become part of the body politics in our country and another way for organizations to support candidates.”

Final campaign finance reports were due today to the Marion County Election Board and shed light on where the money came for the huge war chests the winners built.

The newly installed school board members overwhelmingly outspent and then crushed three incumbents and a handful of other challengers in a race where outside spending by Stand for Children and campaign contributions from out-of-state donors quickly became hot-button issues.

Sullivan, a former Democratic state representative, raised $73,709 for her run against four challengers for a citywide at-large seat, according to the new filings. Sullivan, who raised most of her money from local education advocates and others in Indianapolis, ousted former school board president and IPS parent Annie Roof with 46 percent of the vote. Roof, who raised about $4,500, finished the race with 20 percent of the vote.

“I don’t think this should come as any big surprise,” Sullivan said, referring to the spending. “With the stakes higher than ever and with a higher profile election, you’re going to have more competitive races.”

Sullivan’s contributions range from $500 from former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson to $5,000 from philanthropist Al Hubbard, who sponsors an IPS teaching award with his wife. Sullivan also received $2,000 from Hoosiers for Quality Education, $5,000 from the Indianapolis Board of Realtors, and nearly $19,000 in both direct and in-kind donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce’s advocacy arm.

But unsuccessful school board candidate Ramon Batts, who raised $582 throughout the entirety of the campaign, said he thought there was too much spending by the winning candidates. Batts earned 9 percent of the vote while losing to Sullivan.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Batts said. “I hope that they do the right thing for the children, and not for all the people that gave them the money.”

Also defeated by Sullivan were Butler University instructor Josh Owens, who raised $2,708 last year, and Light of the World Christian Church Pastor David Hampton, who has not yet filed a final report with the Marion County Election Board. Hampton’s pre-election reports listed at least $29,000 in contributions.

Echols, a charter school dean, raised $65,028 to oust longtime board member Michael Brown from his seat serving the Northwest side. Notable contributions to Echols’ campaign include $7,000 from a Political Action Committee called Leadership for Educational Equity, which received most of its contributions from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. She also received $5,000 from Intel Corp. founder and Teach for America board member Arthur Rock.

Bentley, who returned to the board in January after a four-year absence, raised $52,677 to defeat Samantha Adair-White and charter school dean James Turner, another challenger. Neither Adair-White, who had raised $1,100 by the pre-election filing deadline, nor Turner filed final reports by the deadline.

Notable contributions to Bentley’s campaign include $750 from Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice CEO Robert Enlow and $200 from The Mind Trust CEO David Harris, along with sizable in-kind donations from the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.

“If you don’t reach the voters, they’re going in and voting blind,” Bentley said. “I’m not sure that’s a good way to elect school board members or anybody else for that matter. Virtually all the money I raised was used to reach voters.”

But Sullivan, less than a month into her four-year term overseeing the city’s schools, said she acknowledges that campaign dollars overall could be better put to use.

“I would rather see resources go to other places than PR and mailers and all of that,” Sullivan said. “However, that’s the system we have. Until we change that, an important quality to be a candidate is your ability to fund-raise.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”