money matters

Out-of-state donations stand out in Michael Johnston’s first campaign finance report in governor’s race

Former State Sen. Michael Johnston announced his gubernatorial campaign. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Nearly 70 percent of the money donated to former state Sen. Michael Johnston’s gubernatorial bid in the first quarter of 2017 came from outside Colorado, records show.

The list of out-of-state donors includes several supporters of the national education reform movement.

They include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook; Howard Wolfson, director of education at Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York; and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, the program that gave Johnston his start as an educator.

Johnston raised $632,834 between Jan. 1 and March 31, his campaign reported to the Secretary of State. Of that, $445,389 came from outside Colorado.

“The number is a big number,” said Paul Teske, dean of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs. “I think that’s raised a lot of eyebrows.”

That Johnston would generate big support from out of state is not a surprise. He is considered a rising star in the Democratic party and his education reform bonafides are well known nationally. Johnston was the architect of Colorado’s landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law, which among other things ties teacher performance to the academic growth of their students.

Broadly, political races down to local school board races are increasingly attracting more out-of-state money.

Compared to the campaigns of the last two Democrats to win gubernatorial elections, Johnston brought in far more out-of-state money in the beginning stages.

About 10 percent of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first-quarter campaign donations in 2010 came from outside Colorado, records show. Less than 1 percent of former Gov. Bill Ritter’s first quarter donations in 2005 were from out of state.

Johnston, in an interview with Chalkbeat, said his campaign is focused on building an in-state donor base, and he has spent the last four months traveling the state. He added that Colorado donors outnumbered out-of-state donors.

“We’re doing this $5 and $10 dollars at a time,” he said. “When people donate $2 or $3 or $4 dollars at a time, that’s as big of a deal to us as if someone puts in $1,000. It shows their commitment and investment to positive changes to the state.”

Campaign donations for gubernatorial candidates are capped at $1,150 per election cycle. Other political and issue-oriented organizations can raise an unlimited amount of money to influence elections but cannot coordinate with campaigns.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of the 7th Congressional District and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy are among the other Democrats seeking to succeed Hickenlooper, who is term-limited. Both Perlmutter and Kennedy recently announced their campaigns and did not file campaign finance reports.

Noel Ginsburg, CEO of Intertech Plastics, is also running for the Democratic nomination. He reported raising $152,372 during the first three months of the year.

Victor Mitchell, a former Republican state lawmaker, donated $3 million to his own gubernatorial campaign, records show. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who also recently announced his Republican candidacy, reported no contributions during the first quarter.

The 2018 gubernatorial race should feature several education storylines.

Johnston has a long education policy track record, Kennedy named education her No. 1 campaign issue and Brauchler also mentioned education as a priority. Perlmutter’s wife is a former teacher and former president of the Jefferson County teacher’s union.

Johnston’s connections to the education reform community — both locally and nationally — is evident in his first campaign finance report, which was filed Monday.

Locally, charter school leaders Chris Gibbons of STRIVE Preparatory Schools and Kimberlee Sia of KIPP Colorado both donated. Damion Leenatali, executive director of Teach for America-Colorado, and Tony Lewis, executive director of the Denver-based Donnell-Kay Foundation, also donated.

Nationally, donors included an executive for New York City schools, a deputy director for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a policy director for Education Reform Now, a nonprofit affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform.

(The Donnell-Kay Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provide financial support to Chalkbeat. Two Chalkbeat board members — Gideon Stein and Sue Lehmann — also donated to Johnston’s campaign).

Johnston’s national support could work both for and against him, political observers say.

On the positive side, it provides Johnson an early fundraising edge, positions him as a serious candidate and could lead others in the education reform crowd to donate, too. But opponents could paint Johnston’s national supporters as outsiders trying to influence Colorado politics while also criticizing their education policy positions.

Robert Preuhs, a political science professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, sees potential warning signs for Johnston and other candidates from a similar cloth. He cited recent school board election results and anti-testing backlash as setbacks for education reform.

“I do wonder about him placing all his marbles in an education reform bag,” Preuhs said.

While Johnston acknowledged that education will be a major part of this campaign — his first campaign promise was free in-state tuition — it will be about more than that.

“There are a lot of people across the state and nation that are looking for leaders who are building something that is proactive and positive — leaders who can bridge the divide,” he said.

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

share your story

Teachers: How does your district handle family leave? How did it affect your life?

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

New York City is in the news because a petition there is calling for the city to create paid family leave for teachers, who currently must use accrued sick days if they have a child and are limited to six paid weeks off.

Chalkbeat wants to know: How do other districts and schools compare? What implications do these policies have for educators and their families?

If you have an experience to share, or can simply explain how this works where you work, please tell us here. Your answers will help guide our reporting.