Sparks, but no fire

Principal runs for state representative to give teachers a voice


Principal runs for state representative to give teachers a voice.

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Election Day is cold and rainy.

The sky goes from overcast to drizzling to full pouring rain in Greene County as the last voters leave the polls.

At the Linton, Ind., headquarters of District 62 statehouse candidate Jeff Sparks , supporters and family have gathered to wait for the election results. Campaign treasurer Terri Neighbors  checks news sites for vote tallies on a ?borrowed laptop.

Polls closed more than three hours ago    and Sparks is restless, picking up empty soda bottles and cups and crossing the room to throw them out.  He pulls at his neck while a volunteer speculates about votes in Monroe County.

No update yet.

His phone rings.

Sparks answers to greet his campaign manager  — “Hello, Jon” — and disappears around the corner into a dim storage room. He stands and listens, his reply inaudible over volunteers’ chatter.  His back is to them, his profile just visible over his shoulder as he turns his head ?toward the phone.

He hangs up and walks back into the ?brightly lit room.

“Well, that’s it.”

Sparks, principal of Linton-Stockton Junior High School , was one of a handful of educators in 2014 running as Democrats for state office to give teachers a louder voice in Indiana education policy.

Since 2012, the Republican governor and Indiana General Assembly have pushed to expand a controversial voucher program that cost the state millions last school year, and created, by executive order, a state agency that appropriated some Department of Education funds and control of the State Board of Education.

“I kinda feel like I’m in a Peanuts cartoon and Lucy’s holding the ball,” said Sparks,  whose opponent’s voting record doesn’t display support for public education funding.

The Pence-created Center for Education and Career Innovation was dissolved this month, partly to dispel controversy over its perceived partisanship.  In Indianapolis, State Superintendent of Education Glenda Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence fight for control of Indiana schools,  a battle that’s reflected across the state and in Sparks’ home of Linton, Ind.

In District 62, Sparks and Republican incumbent Matt Ubelhor competed for a Statehouse seat. Across the state, educators, lawyers and businessmen fought each other in the midterm elections for General Assembly votes and control of public education in Indiana.

“I think a lot of people were making decisions that don’t know education at all,” Sparks said. “We need to listen to more people who know what’s going on in schools.”

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