Is it me, or is it concerning to see a low number of candidates running for school board this year?
This is not an indictment on those running; however, I am slightly concerned with the lack of interest in serving on the school board for the largest district in the city and arguably the most important district in the state. Whether people want to admit it or not, IPS controls what happens in this city in relation to education. The majority of the attention, money, and resources goes to IPS. Many charter schools take their cue from what IPS does. I go back to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many charters waited to see what IPS did before making decisions.
A couple of the current members are not running for reelection. I had anticipated a replay of the 2020 elections, where there was four highly publicized and contested races. In that election, we saw two incumbents win, Diane Arnold in District 4, who won by barely 4 percent, and Venita Moore in District 2, who won easily. We saw two new winners, Will Pritchard for District 1 and At Large candidate Kenneth Allen, who won in a four-way race that was close between him and the then incumbent Elizabeth Gore.
WFYI reported that the District 3 representative and current school board President Evan Hawkins, District 5 representative Taria Slack, and At-Large member Susan Collins are the incumbents who sought not to run for reelection. Each of them mentioned the time commitment with the school board. While I have never served on a school board, I was able to speak with school board members both in Indianapolis and nationally. These board members all raised concerns about the time commitment and the public pressure. School board members are responsible for crucial areas such as budgets, school closings, and, as we saw in 2020, whether or not to close and subsequently reopen school buildings during the height of the pandemic. School board members go from beloved when they are candidates to potentially being hated based on a decision they made while serving on the board.
I have considered a few factors as to why we only see four candidates running for the three vacant seats.
As mentioned, the 2020 election was one for the ages. Not only did we see multiple members running, but we saw a record amount of local and national spending by organizations. Some races had a vast difference in amount of capital raised that it raised questions on whether seats were being bought. Additionally, we saw candidates running against one another with completely different visions for the district. Had those election races turned out differently, we would be looking at a completely different IPS than the one we have now.
In the past year, we have seen some outrageous occurences in some cities regarding school boards. While some of those occurences did not happen in IPS, we did have some surrounding districts that had to lock down and move school board meetings online due to concerns about adult behavior at the meetings. Hot button topics have made school board meetings a circus in some cases. The arguments around CRT, textbooks found on the back shelf of school libraries, and gender identity for youth have made school boards much different than in previous years. School board meetings and the treatment of school board members have turned nasty. The school board, a place once dull and quiet, has turned to ground zero for grandstanding and drama filled actions.
The Rise of Charters
Indianapolis is slowly becoming the charter capital of the US. The enrollment numbers are dropping in IPS. Every year, there seems to be talk of new charter schools opening, and many of those charters reside in the IPS boundary. We are also seeing more families opting for charter schools over IPS. I wonder with public division around the rise of charters, are the public school boards not appealing to people? It will be interesting to see the voter turnout for the one contested seat in District 3.
There are some important topics this upcoming board will be responsible for. IPS is set to unveil another phase of its Rebuilding Strong plan that Superintendent Dr. Johnson and school district leadership launched in 2021. The big topic is the conversation around IPS closing more schools due to low enrollment and facility quality. These are essential topics that will impact the district’s current and future trajectory.
What does the future hold if we continue to see fewer candidates running? Is this a trend of things to come or just an anomaly after an exhausting couple of years? Will many seats become lifer seats where candidates go year after year unopposed? Maybe some people are just realizing that even though they may want to run, they don’t have the time with all the other responsibilities going on in their lives.
Yes, I am talking about myself!