IPS School Board at-large candidates discuss stands on election issues

El'ad Nichols-Kaufman, Author

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By El’ad Nichols-Kaufman

Candidates for IPS at large seats recently gave their general vision for IPS and where they stand on some key issues:

What is your general vision for the future of IPS?

Susan Coons Collins: “I would like IPS to be an outstanding system that offers all students in the district an education that fulfills their life goals, and that supports the healthy physical, emotional, and academic growth of all students.”
Mary Ann Sullivan (Incumbent): My general vision for IPS is that every single kid, regardless of the neighborhood the live in, has access to a really great school, and I see the system of schools we’re creating as a continuous improvement system.
Joanna Elizabeth Krumel: I’d like to see a system where we are really addressing the needs of the diversity of our students and making sure our schools are as diverse as our township is.

How are you going to make sure there is racial and socio-economic diversity in
IPS’ magnet schools?

Krumel: “Well, I think the easiest way to maintain diversity in IPS magnet schools is to put the magnet schools where the diverse populations are. The magnet schools have really been placed in areas that are not the core, diverse areas of our city… and a lot of our more diverse populations are in the outer ranges of our district, so that would be a kind of a no-brainer in order to make sure we’re putting the schools… in the most diverse areas of the district”.
Collins:  “I would say that if there are problems with maintaining enrollment in a magnet then part of the problem is in marketing that program.  People follow opportunities. If a particular program doesn’t attract a diverse population, then perhaps that program has failed to be marketed as opportunities to diverse demographics.”
Sullivan: “That’s going to be a very deep dive topic that’s coming up with the board. We’ve made some changes to our enrollment preference logic for the lottery, and that actually had a huge effect. We can learn from the best practices across the country and develop something that meets the needs of our families but also make sure each of our kids has a chance to get in to a great school.”

What is your stance on innovation schools?

Sullivan: “So, innovation schools are one of the tools in our toolbox and in our desire to create good schools… For innovation schools that are non-restart schools-that might be conversion or it might be independent charters that ask to become part of the district. I feel that it is better to be collaborative than competitive and oppositional. So, trying to find way to work cross sector to make sure that kids and taxpayers benefit and we don’t waste resources.”
Collins: “I have several reservations about Innovation Schools.  First of all, they are based on a business model much like a stock portfolio, and like a stock portfolio, programs that are marketed as innovative can be closed or dropped.  Stocks are commodities; children are not. Schools are anchors of communities.  They are an integral part of who we are as a community. Public schools are not businesses; innovation schools are… Innovation Schools are backed by large amounts of money.  When the money goes, what happens to the children?  How will a community recover?”
Krumel: “I’m not against the education model of innovation schools… One thing that does worry me about innovation schools is there lack of congruence with actual IPS policies. They don’t have teacher contracts on the same level. Well, they’re not under the same contract structure as regular IPS teachers. And that’s disturbing.”

How will you improve IPS’s transportation?

Krumel: “Well, improving transportation would be easy if we could have a restructure of our schools so that parents aren’t feeling that they have to send their kids across the district in order to get a good education. We’re bussing kids miles and miles and miles across town instead of them going to a traditional school where they could maybe walk to or bike. [We could have a] partnerships with IndyGo, partnership with bikeshare companies, kind of a push for kids to encourage them to explore different means of transportation, maybe incentives for them not to use the bus. I know that’s a very unpopular idea with many parents but transportation to school is not a right, it is a privilege.”
Sullivan: “So, part of our challenges are just related to the whole sector of transportation. The market… is competitive. One of our strategies is to raise compensation for our bus drivers… So, one of the things I’m excited about is if we do partner with IndyGo it helps us with the problem of missed buses. So, it’s if you missed your yellow bus you’re home for the day but if you miss the IndyGo bus you can catch another one ten, twenty minutes later.”
Collins: “ have spoken to many parents and students during my campaign for school board. They all have questions and concerns about transportation in the district.  Our superintendent has stated that it costs the district $20,000 a week in gas alone.  One wonders why children are transported from one side of the city to another.  Transportation to and from any number of Choice schools with varying start and stop times are not practical nor are they cost-efficient. As for high school students using public transportation, this may be a free-choice option for those who are on a bus line or are eager to walk or bike to school, but for the thousands of high school students in the city, Indianapolis bus service is neither dependable nor is it convenient.”

What is actions would you take should the referendum not pass? 

Collins: “Some possible cost-cutting measures I would suggest are an analysis of energy use in IPS buildings and possible ways to lower usage/expense.  Are there green alternatives to energy expenses that could be implemented?  Are administrators right-sized for the responsibilities required of them?  Is a six-figure salary for principals and other administrators practical for a cash-strapped district?”
Sullivan: “I try not to think about that possibility, because I know how difficult it is right now, with our current finances to deliver quality schools to all our families in all of our neighborhoods. And if we do not receive referendum dollars, we may have fewer teachers in schools, you may have to look at closing schools.”
Krumel: “Well, I’d put a freeze on administration salaries before I fire teachers. If we really had to get creative we could get job trading, with some of the high schools where maybe some of the kids are taking on some of the landscaping, some of the maintenance programs at the schools. I would do everything to make sure we cut at a lower level instead of closing any more schools or firing teachers.”