Could a backlash be in the offing for the lavishly funded candidates for the IPS board, and their corporate and otherwise wealthy benefactors?
Now that the most pressing issue in next Tuesday’s election finally has gotten the full spotlight in mainstream media, the possibility of a victory by the grass roots over crass loot must be respected.
After all, there’s recent precedent.
Cue Glenda Ritz and her 2012 rout of Tony Bennett, who outspent her 10 to one in his quest for a second term as the favorite state school superintendent of the privatization forces that hijacked the terms “reform” and “accountability.”
Teachers, fellow unionists and parents, seething over four years of antagonism, division, cronyism, plunder of public money and de-professionalizing of teaching under the Bennett-Mitch Daniels regime, took to the streets and outpolled not only Bennett but his presumptive new partner, Gov. Mike Pence, as well.
In the smaller arena of the Indianapolis Public Schools district, those running against the big bucks, and making a point of it, may be even better positioned than the Ritz troops.
Three – Board President Annie Roof and members Michael Brown and Samantha Adair-White – have the name recognition and contacts that accrue to incumbency. Baggage comes with that cargo as well; and opponents hope that a decade of tarring IPS as “failed” and “broken” will have convinced its constituents they need rescue from without. Convinced them, in short, of the wisdom of the Mind Trust and Stand for Children and Democrats for Education Reform and the billionaires behind the industry of professional critics and charter school entrepreneurs who seek to own the operation.
The token dollars Roof, Brown and Adair-White have raised leaves them proportionately farther behind than Ritz was. Besides the staggering total of more than $120,000 raised by Mary Ann Sullivan, Kelly Bentley and LaNier Echols themselves from wealthy and mostly non-Indiana sources, an undisclosed wad is being spent on their behalf by the corporate-backed anti-union organization Stand for Children.
Stand for Children doesn’t have to report its expenditures because they don’t pass through a candidate’s hands, even though they extol him or her by name. Disingenuously enough, the Stand for Children beneficiaries who aspire to be in charge of our children claim neutrality.
And the slick flyers keep stuffing mailboxes. Perhaps TV is on its way. The danger now for the well-heeled candidates may be overkill. Already, veteran Indianapolis Recorder columnist and radio host Amos Brown has urged the black community in MLK-esque terms to rebuke “Stand for Children and the influence of big money education (rustlers).”
African-Americans are IPS’ largest population, albeit the city’s lowest performers in terms of voter turnout.
To be sure, nobody running for school board, including incumbents, doesn’t advocate change. And to be fair, former board member Bentley and former state legislator Sullivan, in particular, are strong and informed candidates who are out there meeting flesh-and-blood voters and making their case. By normal logistics of school board races, their door-to-door and forum-to-forum campaign may serve, ironically enough, to compensate for fat-cat generosity that ultimately could do them more harm than good.
I’ve said it before. There are nuances here. The money isn’t necessarily going to shills. The poorly funded can’t claim virtue solely by their exclusion from the banquet table. But I’ll say it again: “Philanthropists” like Bill Gates and the Waltons and the Facebook hierarchy and even Indianapolis businessmen must want something from their investment in our little school system besides the warm glow that attends selfless service to the needy. Fortunes – not only profits but also seemingly limitless six-figure salaries – have been made from mandatory testing, white papers, union-busting, charter schools, takeover schools, private school vouchers and other latter-day “reforms.” To the extent the average voter is aware of that reality and suspicious of those who pour money into public school elections while begrudging it to actual public schools, David could pull a repeat on Tuesday.
Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to The Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”