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School boards as political battlegrounds

Obscured by the clamor of futile abortion debates and more, the so-called school reform crowd is quietly continuing its war on Indiana's public schools. For evidence, look to the campaign finance reports for local school board contests. Successful in vilifiying and vanquishing the teacher unions, the reformers now must defeat the public education advocates and mostly-Republican school boards who remain in their way.

The battle to take over the Indianapolis Public Schools board, in particular, finds some strange bedfellows –Democrats for Education Reform and GOP faithful like John Mutz, Allen Hubbard and Tina Bennett, wife of state Superintendent Tony Bennett. If they don't actually have a vote in the district, they certainly have clout with their checkbooks.

IPS candidate Caitlin Hannon has raised an astonishing $30,000, much of it from contributors far from Indianapolis: Denver, San Francisco, Palo Alto and New York. Why is a California venture capitalist contributing $5,000 to an Indiana school board candidate? Because the steady flow of tax dollars to charter schools and education privatization is the next big thing for savvy investors. Follow the money.

Stand for Children, which represents itself as a progressive organization but has revealed itself to be another anti-union front, also is a player in the IPS contests. Its goal of making Indiana a showcase for privatization has to begin with Indianapolis. Insist loudly and often that "it's about the children," and you can distract attention from the millions of dollars at stake.

In the Fort Wayne Community Schools contests, other interesting political influences are in play. Former board member Jon Olinger, ousted in his own re-election bid four years ago, appears to have recruited candidates Glenna Jehl, a real estate agent in Olinger's agency, and Michael Davis, who announced his candidacy for the nonpartisan election at GOP headquarters. Glenna Jehl is best known to readers of The Journal Gazette as a key figure in the campaign finance scandal that brought down GOP mayoral candidate Matt Kelty.

Campaign finance reports for Davis and Jehl show contributions from the Allen County Conservative Political Action Committee. They are of a totally different ideological stripe from the reform crowd in Indy, but if they all succeed in their quest to change the status quo, it will be entertaining to watch them try to work out their own considerable differences, beginning with the Common Core standards.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at