Sullivan, Bentley considering a run for IPS school board

Two high profile Democrats who support school choice and accountability-based education reforms are strongly considering bids for the Indianapolis Public School Board.

Kelly Bentley is a former IPS school board member and long-time critic of the district’s prior leadership, which she said resisted change in her time on the board. Former state representative Mary Ann Sullivan was sometimes the lone legislative Democrat voting in favor of charter schools and other education policy ideas that are more identified with Republicans in Indiana. Both were involved with Democrats for Education Reform, a group that promotes ideas like charter schools and school accountability to Democrats.

Bentley said she is giving serious consideration to run, but said it was too early to announce a decision. Sullivan said she has officially converted a campaign committee set up for her 2012 state senate run to a school board exploratory committee.

“I am absolutely giving it some very serious consideration,” Sullivan said of a potential board run. “It feels like the right time and right place to put my focus.”

Kelly Bentley
Kelly Bentley

Bentley said the work of new Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has prompted her to consider a try to return to her prior seat on the board.

“I’m motivated by all the positive energy I see happening right now,” she said. “It’s super exciting to focus locally on what’s possible.”

If the two join the race, it would be mark the second consecutive school board contest featuring candidates who share what previously had been an outsider view of IPS. All have said the central office should be significantly reduced, school autonomy increased and cooperation pursued with charter schools, which the district traditionally had viewed as competitors.

Bentley lives in the district represented by Samantha Adair-White, who is in the final year of her first term on the board and has not announced if she plans to seek re-election. If she runs, Sullivan said she would likely seek the at-large seat held by school board President Annie Roof. Roof, also finishing her first term in office, last week announced on Facebook that she plans to run again.

The other board member who’s term is up this year is Michael Brown, who has represented the Northwest side of the city for more than a decade. He also said he plans to run again.

In 2012, the IPS school board election produced a sea-change result. Long-term incumbents Mary Busch and Marianna Zaphiriou, strong White supporters, retired and were replaced by Caitilin Hannon and Sam Odle, both of whom pushed for change. Another White ally, Elizabeth Gore, was defeated by Gayle Cosby.

Those three joined with Diane Arnold, who was reelected, to form a new change-oriented majority on the board that quickly set a new direction in 2013. They bought out the contract of former IPS Superintendent Eugene White, cut the budget and hired Ferebee.

Roof, Adair-White and, to a lesser extent, Brown have joined in supporting the new direction in many instances, including the selection of Ferebee. But Brown voted no on some key change-related issues issues, such as White’s buy out and layoffs that resulted from budget cuts.

Ferebee has ruffled the feathers of Democrats, unions and other traditional IPS allies by professing a desire to cooperate with charter schools. He helped write a bill now moving through the legislature which would allow charters to share space in IPS buildings and permit IPS to designate some of its own schools as “innovation schools” run by charter groups or other outside organizations.

Opponents of the bill have complained that it could force teachers out from under union protections and higher IPS wages, as the outside mangers of innovation schools will employ the staff and set those terms.

Mary Ann Sullivan
Mary Ann Sullivan

Sullivan, who left the legislature after an unsuccessful run for the senate in 2012, said the school board’s efforts over the past year to move in a new direction are admirable but the district’s children need more.

Sullivan’s children attended IPS. Her daughter is now a teacher in the district and her grandson attends an IPS school. Her opponent, Roof, is an IPS graduate and her children attend the district.

“One of the things that’s a challenge is the basic fairness for kids throughout the system,” Sullivan said. “Access to a great school is not even throughout the district. It comes through very powerfully in certain neighborhoods. Those kids don’t have a good school option for them.”

Neither Sullivan nor Bentley said they had particularly complaints about Roof or Adair-White, their potential opponents this fall. Both said they were pleased by Ferebee’s efforts, particularly to forge partnerships that would have been unthinkable in the White era.

“As an outsider looking in, I’m really impressed,” Bentley said. “I feel confident that there can be some really significant change in the district that needs to happen. There are some great people on the board. I think I could help support some of the initiatives the superintendent and some of the board members are interested in.”

The addition of Sullivan and Bentley could draw renewed attention to the school board race, and perhaps draw candidates with traditional Democratic views about IPS or with union connections.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said decisions about supporting and encouraging candidates is driven by the local union, in this case the Indianapolis Education Association, which she said has not asked for additional help or support. At this point, Meredith said, there are no plans for ISTA involvement in the IPS race.

Still, Sullivan said she expects she and Bentley are not the only ones considering a run.

“It may be an elevated profile race,” she said. “I kind of think that would be a good thing. Maybe we’ll get a lot of conversations going. That would be the best outcome that can come from a highly contesting school board race.”

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

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