Who Is In Charge

Big fundraising in DPS campaign

Together for Denver’s Schools, the committee supporting the proposed Denver Public Schools bond issue and operating tax increase, listed contributions of $312,420 in the most recent reporting period, with an additional $121,000 in large gifts reported after that.

Election 2012 LogoAn opposition group, No on Denver 3B Bond, has raised $1,590.

District voters will decide a $49 million operating increase, on the ballot as measure 3A, and the $466 million bond issue, measure 3B.

Elsewhere around the metro area, more than $420,000 has been raised in campaigns to pass tax proposals in the Aurora, Cherry Creek and Jeffco school districts.

Together for Denver’s Schools registered with the secretary of state’s office in late July and raised contributions quickly in the July 22 to Oct. 11 reporting period. But the committee also has garnered substantial large gifts since Oct. 11. In the last 30 days before an election, campaign committees are required to file major contribution reports on gifts of $1,000 or more within 24 hours of receipt.

Donations to Together for Denver’s Schools include numerous five-figure contributions, many from real estate and construction companies.

Forest City, developer of Stapleton, gave $50,000, as did Oakwood Homes.

Other large donors included PCL Construction at $5,000, CDL Homes of Westminster with $10,000, Infinity Communities of Greenwood Village at $5,000, the Texas-based Weekley Group of Companies at $10,000, KB Homes with $10,000 and New Town Builders of Denver at $10,000.

Among other large corporate donors were DaVita, the kidney dialysis firm at $25,000, the Benson Mineral Group, which gave $10,000, and the Gary-Williams Co., an energy firm that is the major funder of the Piton Foundation, which in turn is a significant contributor to education initiatives. It gave $25,000. Both of the latter donors have been active in past DPS ballot issues and board campaigns.

Four financial firms RBC Capital Markets, George K. Baum, Piper Jaffrey and Stifel Nicolaus gave contributions of $10,000 each.

The Colorado Education Association gave $7,000 while the Denver Classroom Teachers Association gave $6,000 in non-monetary support.

Arkansas resident Ben Walton of the Walmart family gave $25,000. Other large individual donors were oilman Ron Williams, who gave $10,000, and Bernadette Marquez, who donated $25,000. Marquez and her husband, Tim, have their own foundation and have been major donors to educational causes, including the Denver Scholarship Foundation. Tim Marquez is in the energy business.

Other individual donors of note include DPS board members Jeanne Kaplan at $500, Happy Haynes at $300 and Nate Easley at $200. Superintendent Tom Boasberg donated $1,000. Former board members Elaine Gantz Berman gave $1,000, Les Woodward donated $500 and Theresa Pena gave $100.

The committee spent $245,475 during the reporting period. Major expenses included about $100,000 to ShowPony, a Seattle advertising firm, and about $58,000 for printing. The committee also spent $29,000 with the Denver office of Strategies 360, a campaign consulting firm. The local office is headed by consultant Tyler Chaffee, who managed the 2007 campaign that led to passage of the $550 million Better Denver Bond program, which provides funding for city infrastructure projects.

The No on Denver 3B Bond committee had a handful of individual donors. The largest amount of money, $500, was given by DPS board member Arturo Jimenez, who has been actively campaigning against the bond but supports the operating increase.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.