Seawell tops in dollars raised, spent [UPDATED]

1votecheckpencilDenver Public Schools at-large candidate Mary Seawell is outspending all other DPS board candidates, including her opponent Christopher Scott, at a rate of four to one, according to early campaign finance filings.

Seawell had raised nearly $80,000 – $79,525 plus $17.65 in in-kind donations – as of Oct. 8, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

In contrast, Scott had raised $16,951.47 plus $14,860.11 in in-kind donations. The latter include contributions such as $8,000 from DPS parent David Jarred for Scott’s campaign web site.

Seawell spent $71,253.84, the filings show, compared to Scott’s $9,227.03.

Of the five candidates vying to represent northeast Denver, Vernon Jones reported raising the  most at $32,555. The two candidates to represent southwest Denver were close, with Andrea Merida reporting  $20,707 and Ismael Garcia reporting $18,830.

Jeanne Kaplan, the incumbent in District 3 representing central Denver, is unopposed. She reported raising $29,110 and spending $25,093.27, mostly before determining she was the sole candidate.

The first finance reports, covering the period from Oct. 30, 2008 through Oct. 8, 2009, were due Tuesday.  Candidates will file one more report, due Oct. 30, before the Nov. 3 election and one more, due Dec. 3, after it’s over.

Scott and Seawell are vying for the only citywide seat vacant during this election, which historically draws the most dollars of any DPS board race. This year’s campaign is no exception and the Seawell-Scott race could wind up setting a record for dollars raised during the typically low-key board races.

Consider that, in the most recent board elections in 2007, incumbent Bruce Hoyt led all candidates in fund-raising in the first campaign reporting period. His total for the period was $33,800.

Seawell’s top donors

Seawell’s biggest donations came from four men in related businesses. Three of them – James Lakin, a former owner of Timpte Inc., Douglas Walliser, a current owner of Timpte Inc., and John Pfannenstein, founder of Rockmont Capital – gave $12,500 each.

The fourth man, Thomas Gamel, an owner of Timpte and a founder at Rockmont, gave $7,500. Gamel declined much comment Tuesday.

“I care about the kids of Denver,” he said when asked about the donations.

And his partners? “We’re all like-minded,” he said.

Gamel’s involvement in DPS has until recently been focused on reforms at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in north Denver, where his mother attended school.

But in recent months, he has been meeting with a variety of community members involved in DPS, gathering information about the direction of the district and its achievement.

Gamel also is a former business partner of University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, who gave heavily to DPS school board candidates in past elections before taking the CU job. The two were board members – and Benson was CEO – of United States Exploration Inc., an oil and gas company. 

Benson had “absolutely no influence” on his giving to Seawell and other candidates, Gamel said.

“Bruce and I were business partners at one point, that’s all,” Gamel said Thursday. “We both share a passion for education.”

Timpte’s roots in Denver run deep. The company began in the 1880s when two brothers named Timpte started a business supplying and repairing wagons, buggies and carriages.

It’s since grown to a national transportation company focused mainly on semi-trailers.

Gamel and Lakin were among the Timpte employees who bought the company in 1966. Gamel later founded Rockmont, an investment company also based in Denver, with Pfannenstein.

Seawell said Gamel has invested heavily in Cole, where a majority of staff voted last spring to become an innovation school – meaning the school has waivers from some district policies and union agreements.

“I know he’s giving because he’s really worried … he’s going to lose a school board that’s open to innovation and supportive of innovation,” she said.

In meeting with Gamel, Seawell said, “I’ve been very up front and honest with him about where I stand and if he wanted to give to my campaign knowing that, then I accepted it.”

(The four  men also donated to Jones’ campaign and Gamel also gave to Garcia. See details below. Altogether, the four donated a total of $74,600 to the three candidates.)

Scott’s biggest givers

The number of individual donors giving to Seawell’s campaign tops 120, or more than twice that of Scott’s donor count.

In part, Seawell said she’s been “aggressive” about fund-raising because of concerns that Scott may be able to tap into big money through his teachers’ union endorsement.

Scott’s top donor was the political arm of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which gave him $10,000 or more than half of the dollars raised.

He had no donations in the first reporting period from the Colorado Education Association, though the statewide union gave to at least one other DPS candidate endorsed by the DCTA.

The CEA donor committee has a healthy bottom line at $457,460.63 as of Oct. 14, its latest finance report.  But while the statewide union has invested heavily in some school board races – $225,000 in a heated Colorado Springs contest in 2005 – that’s been more the exception than the rule.

(In the period from July 1 through Sept. 30, the CEA committee reports it gave $16,701 to 14 school board candidates statewide, including its largest donation of $5,000 to DPS candidate Nate Easley, running to represent northeast Denver. See more about Easley below.)

The DCTA gave a total of $28,000 to its three endorsed candidates as of Oct. 8, with $10,000 to Scott, $15,000 to Andrea Merida in southwest Denver and $3,000 to Easley.

Scott said he, like Seawell, has been up front with his biggest contributor about his beliefs.

“I like to think of it as I had a check written by 3,200 teachers who paid dues to DCTA ,” Scott said. “That does not necessarily mean I am beholden to the teachers’ union but I am beholden to teachers, because they’re the no. 1 contributing factor to our kids’ academic performance …

“But I’ve said to (DCTA President) Henry Roman on a number of occasions that there is much of what they do that I am supportive of. And there are a number of things that I’m not terribly supportive of.”

For example, he said he called at one candidates’ forum for teachers to be evaluated every year, which netted angry e-mails from some teachers.

“The union has taken some good steps in that direction but they have to police themselves,” Scott said. “There has to be a strong, noticeable commitment to getting people out of the classroom that shouldn’t be in the classroom.”

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

Details from the campaign finance reports:

At-large candidates

20091007134946(1)Christopher Scott

Funds on hand at end of reporting period: $7,724.44

Funds raised during reporting period: $16,951.47 plus $14,860.11 in non-monetary contributions

Funds spent during reporting period: $9,227.03

Donors: Total of 51, including Scott himself. Notable names include Nita Gonzales, CEO of Escuela Tlatelolco, a DPS contract school, $25; Maria Guajardo-Lucero, executive director, the Mayor’s Office for Education and Children, $100; Jeanne Kaplan, DPS board member, $500; and active parent Roxana Witter, $200.

Biggest contributors:  Denver Classroom Teachers Association, $10,000; Arturo Jimenez, DPS board member, $1,500.

Biggest expenses: $4,462.44 for phone calling; $2,585.28 for promotional materials.

Seawell_DSC4611-Email-200x300Mary Seawell

Funds on hand at end of reporting period: $8,271.16

Funds raised during reporting period: $79,525 plus $17.65 in non-monetary contributions

Funds spent during reporting period: $71,253.84

Donors: Total of 121, with notable names including Daniel Ritchie, former DU chancellor and now CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, $2,000; Susan Daggett, wife of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, $200; Jill Conrad, DPS at-large board member,  $200; and Kristin Richardson, chair of the DPS Foundation board, $5,000.

Biggest contributors:  James Lakin, owner, Timpte Inc., $12,500; John Pfannenstein, principal, Rockmont Capital, $12,500; Douglas Walliser, owner, Timpte Inc., $12,500; and Thomas Gamel, chair, Rockmont Capital, $7,500.

Biggest expenses: $54,600 to On-Sight Public Affairs Inc. of Golden for campaign mailings; $8,722.15 to 3PG Consulting of Denver for campaign management.


Candidates for District 2, southwest Denver

meridacampaign-photo3Andrea Merida

Funds raised during reporting period: $20,707

Funds spent during reporting period: $9,006.37

Donors: 34. Notable names include Nita Gonzales, CEO of Escuela Tlatelolco, a DPS contract school, $50; former DPS board member Lucia Guzman, $100; and DPS board member Jeanne Kaplan, $100.

Biggest contributors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association, $15,000; Arturo Jimenez, Jimenez for School Board fund, $1,500; United Food and Commercial Workers, $1,000.

Of note: Merida is one of three candidates endorsed by the DCTA, and received the most of any of the three during this reporting period. The other DCTA-backed candidates – Christopher Scott and Nate Easley – received $10,000 and $3,000 respectively.

PeopleIsmaelGarcia100809Ismael Garcia

Funds raised during reporting period: $18,830

Funds spent during reporting period: $10,738.31, including a $5,000 returned donation

Donors: 31. Notable names include Colorado businessman Phil Anschutz, $500; DPS School Board President Theresa Pena, $100; and Linda Childears, CEO of the Daniels Fund, $100.

Biggest contributors: Thomas Gamel, Rockmont Capital, $7,100 ( Gamel also gave to at-large candidate Mary Seawell, see story above for more information on Gamel); Steven Halstedt, Centennial Ventures founder, $1,000; Richard Saunders, Saunders Construction, $1,000.

Of note: Garcia returned a $5,000 check from the Gary-Williams Energy Co., the oil company that funds the Piton Foundation, uncertain over campaign regulations about accepting donations from corporations. State law prohibits it but Denver, where “home rule” rules, apparently does not – Gary-Williams gave similar large donations to school board candidates in the 2007 race. However, Denver county candidates, including school board candidates, can now file finance documents with the state and will be required to do so in 2010. Garcia said he is being cautious because “I don’t want this to get in the way of what I’m trying to do for the kids and the district.”


Candidates for District 4, northeast Denver

jacqui shumwayJacqui Shumway

Funds raised during reporting period: $3,126

Funds spent during reporting period: $3,052.79

Donors: 40, including Shumway herself. Notable names include state Rep. Joel Judd, D-Denver, $50; Denver City Council member Marcia Johnson, $100; Denver City Council member Carla Madison, $50; retired DPS teacher Mary Sam, $50.

Biggest contributors: Shumway loaned her campaign $1,000.

mosbyAndrea Mosby

Mosby had not filed a finance report with the Denver city clerk or the Secretary of State’s Office as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.





PastorJonesVernon Jones

Total raised during reporting period: $32,555

Total spent during reporting period: $26,983.67, including a $5,000 returned donation.

Donors: 36. Notable names include Kristin Richardson, chair of the DPS Foundation board, $2,500; former City Council President Elbra Wedgeworth, $100; Anna Jo Haynes, Mile High Montessori president, $100; David Greenberg, founding board member of the Denver School of Science and Technology, $100.

Biggest contributors: James Lakin, Timpte Inc. owner, $6,250; John Pfannenstein, Rockmont Capital principal, $6,250; Douglas Walliser, Timpte Inc. owner, $6,250; Thomas Gamel, Rockmont Capital principal, $3,750. (The four men also gave to at-large candidate Mary Seawell, see above story for more about them.)

Of note: Like District 2 candidate Ismael Garcia, above, Jones returned a $5,000 contribution from the Gary-Williams Energy Co., uncertain over campaign regulations about accepting donations from corporations. State law prohibits it but Denver, where “home rule” rules, apparently does not – Gary-Williams gave similar large donations to school board candidates in the 2007 race. However, Denver county candidates, including school board candidates, can now file finance documents with the state and will be required to do so in 2010. Jones said he “erred on the side of caution” in returning the donation.

easleyNate Easley

Total raised during reporting period: $18,264

Total spent during reporting period: $12,307.46

Donors: 73. Notable names include Wayne Vaden, former Denver clerk and recorder, $250; J.D. MacFarlane, former Colorado Attorney General, $2,000; Janet Gullickson, College Invest administrator, $100.

Biggest contributors: American Federation of Teachers Colorado, $1,500; Public Education Committee of the CEA, $5,000; Denver Classroom Teachers Association, $3,000.

Of note:  Easley is the only DPS candidate who has to date received funding from the Colorado Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union. He received that group’s highest single donation this reporting period.

clarkAlton Clark

Total raised during reporting period: $0

Total spent during reporting period: $653.08

Of note: Clark, during a candidate forum on Tuesday, said he would not “cow down” to anyone, including DPS leaders. “That’s why I don’t get contributions,” he said. “I cannot be bought.”

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