Melina Kennedy outpolled Greg Ballard by a hefty margin among Indianapolis Public Schools district voters in the Nov. 8 race for mayor of Indianapolis.
Of course, Kennedy, a Democrat, didn’t win. Ballard, the Republican incumbent, was re-elected and will serve another four-year term. He won despite being beaten soundly among voters within the IPS boundaries, roughly the pre-1970 city limits.
And that highlights one issue with the recent proposal by the Mind Trust to redesign Indianapolis Public Schools. A key factor in the plan is turning governance of the schools over to the mayor of Indianapolis. The mayor would appoint three members of a new IPS school board, while the Democratic and Republican leaders of the city-county council would appoint one member each.
But the mayor and city-county council are elected by voters from throughout Marion County; that’s been the case since city and county government were consolidated via “UniGov” in 1970. IPS is only one of 11 school districts in the county, and its residents are a minority among the voters who choose Indianapolis city-county officials.
It’s a little tricky to figure out exactly what the results of a Ballard-Kennedy contest within IPS would have been. The Marion County clerk’s office does a good job of making precinct-by-precinct results available. But some voting precincts are apparently split between IPS and other school districts in the county, including Lawrence, Perry, Warren, Washington and Wayne township schools.
Further complicating matters, there are precincts where residents can vote for candidates in both IPS and township school board elections, said Angie Nussmeyer, press secretary for Marion County Clerk Beth White. The unusual double-voting situation reflects the busing of IPS students to township schools for desegregation purposes, which is currently being phased out.
Nevertheless, we can try.
If you count all the “city precincts” in their entirety – those without a township designation – Kennedy wins with 33,646 votes to Ballard’s 17,311. That’s 66 percent to 34 percent.
If you count the all precincts that include IPS voters, Kennedy gets 35,231 votes to 18,579 for Ballard. That’s a 65-35 percentage split.
If you exclude the split precincts and count only those that are fully in IPS, Kennedy gets 25,464 votes and Ballard gets 14,955 – a 63-37 margin.
It would be wrong to cast the Mind Trust proposal for IPS as a Republican take-over. Bart Peterson, the only Democratic mayor of Indianapolis since UniGov, chairs the Mind Trust board. David Harris, who was Peterson’s charter-schools director, is the organization’s founder and CEO.
The Mind Trust argues with some justification (pages 89-91), that elected school boards, for a variety of reasons, often haven’t provided effective leadership – and that mayoral control of IPS might be preferable to the alternative of a state takeover.
It’s also true that Indianapolis and central Indiana residents who live outside the IPS boundaries have a stake in the success of the state’s largest school district. But it’s not self-evident that Marion County voters would put a high priority on holding their mayor accountable for the performance of IPS schools.
Interestingly, Kennedy tried to make education an issue in the election, proposing to use proceeds from the sale of the city water system to pay for pre-kindergarten programs. Ballard largely steered clear of education issues in his campaign. It apparently didn’t hurt him.