In a special series of interviews, Afternoons with Amos has been interviewing the candidates running for the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners (School Board). As a district, IPS is troubled. Four of its schools were taken over by the State three years ago. An action that was controversial then and remains so today. Many IPS buildings are under utilities. And while enrollment has stabilized, thousands of children have left the district over the past forty years. Currently, IPS is a majority-minority district. Some 52.2% of the districts students are African-American, the second highest percentage of Blacks of any Marion County school district. Hispanics comprise 21.9% of the district, highest Hispanic percentage of any city/county district. Whites comprise just 20.4% of IPS students. Some 82% of IPS students are eligible for free/reduced lunch, the highest percentage of any city/county school district. Slightly over two-third (68.4%) of IPS students graduated on time from high school. And a little more than half of IPS students (51.6%) passed both Math and English/Language Arts ISTEP.
Afternoons with Amos interviewed nine of the ten candidates for IPS School Board, including the At Large candidates running in the entire IPS district, which is geography of Indianapolis’ old city limits. That area has a population of 310,870 (2013 Census ACS). Of which 38.6% are African-American, 11.9% are Hispanic and 47.7% are White/Non-Hispanic. Median Household Income in the district is $30,728 and 32.7% of persons live in poverty; 42.8% of children. 23% of adults over 25 don’t have a high school diploma and just 21.3% of adults over 25 are college graduates. Just 24.1% of the 120,000 Households in the district are families with children under 18. Appearing in an extended Afternoons with Amos were At Large candidates Ramon Batts, Dr. David Hampton, Andrea (Annie) Roof and Mary Ann Sullivan. (Candidate Josh Owens had a schedule conflict and couldn’t appear.) The four candidates who did appear covered a ride range of issues in their only broadcast interview of the campaign. The issue of the injection of big money from outside interests, particularly the organization Stand for Children, was brought up by listeners and Amos. Mary Ann Sullivan who is endorsed by Stand for Children defended their endorsement.
But, Sullivan said she wasn’t used to ads being sent out on her behalf that she had no control over. Sullivan said, if elected, she could publicly disagree with issues Stand for Children might propose that she’d be against. Candidates Annie Roof and Ramon Batts criticized the role of big money in the IPS campaign. They and David Hampton said that voters were starting to raise concerns about it and that it was growing as an issue. Though Sullivan said she hadn’t received that feedback. Giving more autonomy or control of IPS schools to principals and parents was a major topic from listeners and the candidates.
All seemed to support some increased autonomy, though Ramon Batts was skeptical of some aspects. But all four candidates agreed when former State Representative Bill Crawford asked if the School Board should set some firm policies that couldn’t be changed by autonomous school leaders. Increasing parental engagement was another hot topic the candidates covered. Along with improving racial understanding and cultural competency among IPS teachers and staff. On the role of outside charter schools in IPS, the four candidates agreed that IPS should look at chartering their own schools as state law has allowed since charters were created eleven years ago.
Annie Roof and Ramon Batts, though was skeptical of the new state law that allows IPS to partner with outside charter school organizations. David Hampton was open to the law, called House Bill 1321 while Mary Ann Sullivan said there was confusion in the community over what the law actually does. Click the Media Player to Hear the Afternoons with Amos Interview with the IPS At Large Candidates Ramon Batts, David Hampton, Annie Roof and Mary Ann Sullivan. Runs 74 Minutes ©2014 WTLC/Radio One.