Colorado

Wide gaps in DPS board fundraising persist in second campaign filings

DPS logoDenver Public Schools board candidates who support the current district administration’s slate of policies continue to far outpace their opponents in fundraising, according to the second round of campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office on Friday.

Overall, candidates for DPS board seats raised nearly $149,000 in the past two and a half weeks, bringing total campaign donations in the race to $744,116.

Nine candidates are vying for four seats on the seven-member board. The races have been closely watched because while the current board has been supportive of the district and Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s accountability-based reform policies, that majority is narrow and could flip if more critics of the administration are elected. A sense of the high stakes in the races has motivated a spate of high-level donations, primarily to the four candidates who have pledged to continue the district’s current trajectory.

Friday’s filings show that pattern continuing. The bulk of the money raised in the reporting period — $113,580 — was given to those four: former Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien running at-large, former Denver Councilwoman Rosemary Rodriguez in District 2, lawyer Mike Johnson in east Denver’s District 3 and Urban League executive Landri Taylor in northeast Denver’s District 4.

The remaining $35,389 raised went to candidates who are critical of the current administration’s focus on school choice, teacher accountability and data-driven decision-making and who have promised to push the district’s emphasis more to neighborhood schools. Those candidates are software company manager Michael Kiley in the at-large race, community organizer Rosario C. de Baca in District 2, activist and school volunteer Meg Schomp in District 3 and water engineer Roger Kilgore in District 4.

A third candidate in the at-large race, Joan Poston, does not fall into either camp. She has also not established a campaign committee and is not raising any money from outside donors.

Here’s a breakdown of how much money each candidate has raised since October 15:

At-large

  • Kiley – Raised $3,989 in this reporting period, bringing his total to $36,469. He spent $4,078 during the period, leaving him with $8,567 on-hand.
  • O’Brien – Raised $17, 975 during the reporting period, bringing her fundraising total to $191,299, the largest any single candidate has raised in the campaign. She spent $60,332 since October 15, leaving her with $5,918 on-hand.
  • Poston – She doesn’t have a campaign committee and reported spending $311 of her own money.

District 2

  • C. de Baca – Raised $5,170 in the past two and a half weeks, brining her total to $23,335 over the course of the campaign. She spent $6,529 during the reporting period and has $10,224 on-hand. She also received $579 in non-monetary contributions.
  • Rodriguez – Raised $30,040 since October 15, the largest amount raised by a candidate in the reporting period. That brings her total contributions to $117, 760. She spent $31,355 in the period and has $27,294 on-hand.

District 3

  • Johnson – Raised $27,619 in the reporting period, which brings his total fundraising take to $173,754, second only to O’Brien. He spent $52,873 during the period and has $16,711 on-hand.
  • Schomp – Raised $14,220 since October 15, the largest fundraising take of any of the candidates critical of the current administration. That brings her total to $46,169. She also received $579 in non-monetary contributions. She spent $14,052 during the period and has $3,783 on-hand.

District 4

  • Kilgore — Raised $12,010 during the reporting period, bringing his total to $45,279. Kilgore also received $1,079 in non-monetary contributions. He spent $18,366 and has $3,241 on-hand.
  • Taylor – Raised $37,946 since October 15, bringing his total fundraising levels to $110,051. Taylor also received $498 in non-monetary contributions. He spent $37,622 and has $15,002 on-hand.

The largest single donations came from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which gave $12,000 to Schomp, $7,000 to Kilgore and $4,000 to C. de Baca, as well as non-monetary contributions for staff support and event expenses to all four.

But the candidates who support the administration benefited from large donations from a variety of advocacy organizations and wealthy donors from Colorado and out-of-state. Democrats for Education Reform’s Colorado political committee gave O’Brien, Rodriguez and Taylor $2,000 each, while Stand for Children Colorado gave O’Brien, Johnson and Taylor $1,800 each.

Houston hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, his wife Laura and their foundation gave a combined $23,900 to the four candidates, while Katherine Bradley, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based education philanthropy CityBridge Foundation gave a combined $6,500 to the group.

Locally, Pat Hamill of Oakwood Homes gave Rodriguez, Johnson and Taylor a combined $18,000. Denver Art Museum president Cathey Finlon gave O’Brien and Johnson each $500 and gave $1,000 to both Taylor and Rodriguez.

Fundraising in the district board race appears to be proceeding at a similar pace to the 2011 board races. Candidates this year raised more money in the second filing round than they did in 2011, but overall fundraising levels are a bit less than they were at this point in the 2011 race, when candidates had raised around $790,000.

Candidates will file campaign finance reports one final time, after next week’s election.

Contributions in other districts

In Jefferson County, an independent committee named Believe in Better Schools reported spending $22,804, most of it in support of candidates that have been endorsed by the county Republican Party. Those include Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt.

Spending was on newspaper and social media advertising and on direct mail.

The group received its funding from Jeffco Students First Action, a group that has been critical of district policies but which itself doesn’t have to report its contributors.

Here’s a breakdown of total direct contributions to candidates:

District 1 — Tonya Aultman-Bettridge reported $23,749, plus $3,300 in loans. Williams has total contributions of $5,756.

District 2 – Newkirk has raised $4,785 while Jeff Lamontagne has raised $55,539, including a small contribution from the Jefferson County Education Association Small Donor Committee and $8,166 from the Public Education Committee, an affiliate of the Colorado Education Association.

District 5 – Witt has raised $11,037 while Gordan Van de Water has raised $37,395.

Races for three seats in the Grand Junction-based Mesa 51 district have a partisan tone, with county Republicans endorsing a slate of candidates and out-of-district conservative donors providing funding for those candidates.

In the latest reporting period, GOP-endorsed candidates each received $2,000 contributions from Ralph Nagel, president of Top Rock LLC, a Denver-based investment company, and a strong supporter of school choice. Nagel also has provided substantial donations to conservative board candidates in Douglas County.

The Mesa GOP candidates, Patrick Kanda, Michael Lowenstein and John Sluder, each previously received $5,000 from C. Edward McVaney of Greenwood Village, a retired software company owner. McVaney is on the board of ACE Scholarships and was a founder of Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch.

Despite the out-of-district donations, opponents of those three candidates lead in overall fundraising. Here’s the rundown:

In District C, Kanda has raised $7,344 compared to $11,046 for John Williams, who’s received support from the Mesa Valley Education Association, the local union. A third candidate, Lonnie White, hasn’t filed any financial reports.

In District D, Lowenstein has raised $9,143, trailing opponent Tom Parrish’s $12,367.

In District E, Sluder has raised $8,101 compared to $8,627 for opponent Greg Mokolai. He’s also received help from the Mesa Valley teachers union.

Nagel and McVaney also have donated to candidates in the Thompson school district, where a group named Liberty Watch is backing Donna Rice, Bryce Carlson, Rocci Bryan and Carl Langer.

Those candidates have raised a total of $33,150, with $26,000 of that from McVaney and Nagel.

The other candidates, Lori Ward, Gerald Lauer and incumbents Jeff Berg and Janice Marchman, have raised a total of $15,002. Some of them have received support from union committees.

This post has been updated to add information about fundraising in other districts and about individual donors. 

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.