Who Is In Charge

Colorado Commits launches A66 TV spots

Educators and political junkies who’ve been wondering where the Amendment 66 campaign has been now need to look no farther than their TVs – the first ads boosting the amendment aired Tuesday.

Screen shot of TV ad
Screen shot of pro-Amendment 66 TV ad

The two spots, each 15 seconds long and airing in various TV markets around the state, carry the punch line “Big change, small price.”

The first shows a classroom scene, and the announcer says, “More teacher aides for $133 a year. Amendment 66 puts the money in the classroom. Big change, small price.”

The second ad shows kids in gym class, with the announcer saying, “Bring back gym class for $133 a year. Amendment 66 keeps money out of administration. Big change, small price.”

The spots run back-to-back.

The $133 a-year figure is the additional tax that the pro-66 campaign estimates will be paid on $57,685 a year, Colorado’s median household income. (You can view the ads here.)

Amendment 66 would raise the state’s individual income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 5 percent on incomes up to $75,000. Earnings above $75,000 would be taxed at 5.9 percent. The additional money raised by the new tax would be earmarked for education. (See page 5 of the state’s “Blue Book” voter guide for additional estimates of how the new tax would affect different income levels.)

Amendment 66 is a package deal with Senate Bill 13-213, a law passed last spring that would make major changes in Colorado’s school finance formula. The law won’t go into effect unless voters pass the tax hike. Major elements of SB 13-213 would provide preschool funding for all eligible at-risk students and cover full-day kindergarten costs for all students.

The law also would substantially increase funding for at-risk students and English language learners. But the bill does not specify spending on teacher aides, gym classes or to reduce class sizes. Those decisions would be up to individual school districts.

Do your homework

EdNews asked campaign officials about the size of the ad buy, in which markets ads had been placed and about the duration and cost of the campaign.

Curtis Hubbard, spokesman for Colorado Commits to Kids, would only say, “It’s a statewide ad buy that includes the three major markets and reaches SW Colorado via Albuquerque stations. Our aim is to reach as many voters as possible in the next five weeks to let them see for themselves that Amendment 66 promises big changes for a small price,” adding that the campaign will last “until at least 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 5.”

Hubbard wouldn’t disclose the cost of the ads, saying “Financial details of the campaign are made available in our regular public disclosures.”

A source not connected with the campaign did some of his own research on Colorado Commits ad buys and told EdNews he believes the campaign has purchased ads costing at least $420,000 a week in the Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction markets.

In its news release, the campaign said the ads were produced by Putnam Partners, a Virginia-based political advertising firm. In its Sept. 30 spending report, the campaign reported paying Putnam $106,558 during the prior two weeks. (See this EdNews story for a full report on the latest Colorado Commits contributions and spending.)

While there’s been a lot of chatter in the education community about the low-key character of the campaign to date, Colorado Commits has been busy setting up field offices and hiring canvassers and conducting a fairly active campaign on social media.

Mayor Hancock endorses 66

Amendment 66 news conference
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock formally endorsed Amendment 66 on Oct. 1 at the Clayton Early Learning Center. The campaign logo had been chalked on the parking lot, along with a few thousand stick figures of children.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, flanked by sign-waving campaign volunteers and staffers, Tuesday endorsed the amendment.

“I am voting for Amendment 66 because when it comes down to it, it’s time for everyone of us to stand in the gap for Colorado kids,” he said.

The event was held at the Clayton Early Learning Center in northeast Denver to emphasize Amendment 66’s impact on preschool programs. Charlotte Brantling, head of Clayton, and Qualistar Colorado Vice President Heather Tritten also spoke in support.

The pep rally was staged on an asphalt parking lot on which had been chalked a full color Colorado Commits logo and a few thousand colorful stick figures of children. Creation of the chalk drawings was recorded on video and could show up in a future campaign video or ad. As the rally broke up, a maintenance man wheeled a power washer onto the lot, ready to clean it off.

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.