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Voters embrace education reform locally, but not in state race

By Scott Olson

(From Indianapolis Business Journal, November 7th, 2012)

Change within the Indianapolis Public Schools board is coming faster than expected even for the Mind Trust, the locally based education reform group pushing for a sweeping transformation of the district.

Tuesday’s election saw three reform-minded IPS board candidates—Gayle Cosby, Caitlin Hannon and Sam Odle—win their races by a sizeable margin. Another candidate, reform-minded incumbent Diane Arnold, ran unopposed.

Combine the four with like-minded board members Samantha Adair-White and Annie Roof, who won in 2010, and the Mind Trust could have allies in six of the seven seats.

Michael Brown strongly supports Superintendent Eugene White, who opposes the Mind Trust’s more radical plan for change.

“If you had asked me a year ago when we released our plan, I would have been completely surprised,” Mind Trust CEO David Harris said Wednesday morning. “A lot of times you have shifts that balance things out. Now you have six votes for a reform agenda. It brings a real opportunity to bring about significant change.”

The Mind Trust plan released in December details the sweeping changes the organization views as necessary to reverse decades of decline in the district. The plan recommends gutting IPS’ central office and freeing up $188 million a year to provide universal preschool, to pay key teachers more than $100,000 a year and to transform the district into a network of autonomous “opportunity” schools.

And to make it happen, the Mind Trust says the state Legislature should yank control of the district from the IPS school board and hand it to the Indianapolis mayor.

Mayor Greg Ballard has been cool to the idea of taking responsibility for IPS, arguing that it is incongruous for the mayor of the entire city to control just one of its numerous school districts.

Even so, business interests say the election results prove that a majority of Indianapolis residents agree that the school district can no longer continue to replicate “the failures of the past.”

“I commend the citizens of Indianapolis for casting their vote in favor of a better Indianapolis and electing true change agents who will work to provide the tools necessary for student achievement across the board,” Indy Chamber President and CEO Scott Miller said in a prepared statement.

In one of the more glaring examples of that change, Cosby, a Lawrence Township teacher, routed incumbent Elizabeth Gore in District 2, winning 75 percent of the vote.

Hannon, a former IPS teacher who now works at the not-for-profit Teach Plus, beat challengers Jim Nixon and Larry W. Whiteman in District 1, capturing 67 percent.

And Odle, former CEO of IU Health, defeated Larry Vaughn for the at-large seat by receiving 63 percent.

Hannon raised more than $62,000, amassing the largest war chest in the race, which groups like the Mind Trust and Indiana Democrats for Education Reform saw as pivotal to improving the management and performance of IPS.

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