GOP outspends AFT in Dougco races

Nearly $50,000 has been raised by candidates in four hotly contested Douglas County school board races.

StockCashPile92309The Douglas County Republican Party has given about $13,000 of in-kind services for mailings by four candidates, while $7,500 in contributions to opposing candidates has come from sources connected to the American Federation of Teachers. (District teachers are represented by an AFT affiliate.)

But the biggest single contributor is Denver investor and artist Ralph Nagel, who’s made a total of $15,000 in contributions to three conservative candidates. Nagel is a regular contributor to GOP candidates, a trustee of the University of Denver and board chair of the Alliance for Choice in Education.

Doug Benevento, Dan Gerken, Meghann Silverthorn and incumbent John Carson are running as a conservative bloc, promoting more parental choice, more charter schools, more transparency in district spending and less autonomy for district administrators.

Sue Catterall, Kevin Leung, Kristine Turner and Emily Hansen (the latter two are incumbents) are running with the endorsement of the Douglas County Federation, which represents district teachers.

(See this previous EdNews story for more background on the candidates and the issues.)

While the differences are sharp in the contests, most of the candidate spending so far has been on routine board race expenses like yard signs, brochures, websites and the like. And, the total spending is modest compared to Denver, where just one candidate, Mary Seawell, has raised nearly $80,000.

Here’s a rundown on candidate fundraising by district:

DISTRICT B: Most the western part of the county, not including Highlands Ranch

Carson: $9,289 contributed in cash, $3,358 in non-monetary contributions, $999.46 spent and $8,351.11 on hand.

Contributions of interest include $500 from former GOP Sen. Bill Armstrong, $3,222.45 in-kind from the country Republican Party, $5,000 from Nagel and $50 from state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams.

Catterall: $5,515 contributed plus $395 in non-monetary donations, $4,665.88 spent and
$774.70 on hand

She’s received $2,500 from the AFT-Douglas County Federation and $395 from the Colorado Democratic Party.

DISTRICT D: Southeastern part of the county, including Castle Rock

Gerken: $3,694.99 raised, $3,242.25 in non-monetary contributions, $2,332 spent and $1,361.89 on hand.

Contributions include $500 from Armstrong, $1,000 from real estate investor Josh Taxman of Boulder and $3,242.25 in-kind from county Republicans.

Leung: $300 has been raised, he’s loaned himself $2,824.26 land spent $2,824.26.

DISTRICT E: A north-central slice of the county, west of Interstate 25 and north of Castle Rock east of I-25

Benevento: $14,751 contributed plus $3,242.25 in-kind, $2,482.83 spent, $12,157.99 on hand

In addition to $5,000 from Nagel and $3,224.25 from county Republicans, he also has raised $1,300 from the political action committee of Denver law firm Greenberg Traurig. A former member of Gov. Bill Owens’ cabinet, Benevento also seems to have tapped into his political networks for money. He’s received $50 from House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver and a lawyer at Greenberg, and small contributions from Statehouse lobbyists Katy Atkinson, Gale Barry, Sean Bradley and Tanya Kelly-Bowry. Contributors from GOP and Owens circles include Sean Duffy, Troy Eid, Maria Garcia Berry, Rick O’Donnell, Henry Sobanet and John Zakhem, plus state Rep.. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch.

Turner: $4,475 raised and $5,039.36 spent.

Contributions include $2,500 from Brenda Smith of Castle Rock, president of the Douglas County Federation, $500 from AFT staff member Billy Husher of Denver and $50 from Jane Urschel of Larkspur, an executive of the Colorado Association of School Boards.

DISTRICT G: The northeastern part of the county east of I-25

Hansen: $4,525 in contributions plus $422 in-kind, $3,371.80 of spending and $1,133.88 on hand.

The largest contribution is $2,500 from the AFT-Committee on Political Education.

Silverthorn: $7,301.96 in contributions plus $3,317.25 in-kind, $1,956.41 spent and $5,381.79 on hand.

She’s received $3,222.45 from the county GOP for mailings and $5,000 from Nagel.

Several candidates have contributed varying amounts to their own campaigns, and in some cases have given modest donations to other allied candidates.

The financial reports are for the period ending Oct. 8 and filed this week. The next financial reports are due Oct. 30.

Although board members represent districts, county voters vote for candidates in all districts. (Board members in three other districts aren’t up for election this year.) Voting this year is by mail ballot.

Do your homework – candidate websites

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede