Karen E. Crummy, investigative reporter for The Denver Post
Today is Election Day in Colorado. We are voting on education measures, and it’s a partisan issue. Republicans favor school reform while the Democratic Party wants to enhance the current system through additional taxation.
The Denver Post has a front-page story that illustrates how “news” is portrayed here in Colorado. The story is by Zahira Torres, Karen Crummy and Nancy Lofholm.
Financial backers who want school districts to adopt the anti-union, pro-voucher and school- choice model set by Douglas County have fanned out to other parts of Colorado, donating to candidates who are promising similar results.
Among the key donors are businessmen C. Edward McVaney, Ralph Nagel and Alex Cranberg. They have contributed more than $200,000to school board races for the Douglas, Jefferson, Greeley-Evans, Mesa Valley and Thompson school districts.
Colorado Springs real estate developer Steve Schuck has not directly donated to school board races this year but served as a host for a fundraiser to elect a slate of candidates in Jefferson County.
Schuck says he, McVaney, Cranberg and others are purposely focusing contributions where there is the possibility of reform.
"We do try to target (areas) where we think we have the greatest chance to have the maximum impact," he said.
Schuck and Cranberg were members of the host committee for a fundraiser held by JeffCo Students First in support of Republicans Julie Williams, Ken Witt and John Newkirk, who are vying for seats on the board of Jefferson County Public Schools. The fundraiser at the home of Greenwood Village businessman and voucher supporter Brian Watson helped the charitable organization, which is not required to disclose its donors, raise $30,000 for the three candidates.
The three candidates opposing the Republicans have been endorsed by the Jefferson County Democrats and have the support of the teachers union. Tonya Aultman-Betteridge, Jeff Lamontagne and Gordon Van de Water each received more than $8,000 from the Public Education Committee, a small-donor committee of the Colorado Education Association.
Ami Prichard, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, said the local teachers union did not put any money into the races early on but expects to in the final push.
Prichard said she was disheartened by efforts to turn the race into a partisan battle.
"It's really sad that people are using the school board to make a political statement," Prichard said.
In 2003, Schuck; Cranberg, CEO of Aspect Energy; and McVaney, co-founder of software company J.D. Edwards; were instrumental in getting pro-voucher candidates elected to the Colorado Springs District 11 school board.
Schuck said electing candidates who are pro-vouchers and school choice are the "primary objectives" in every board election, but that "each of us goes his or her own way" when it comes to districts.
"We've learned that we've got to be strategic where we put our resources," Schuck said.
Douglas County remains the key battleground with Cranberg and Nagel, the president of Top Rock LLC, bankrolling the campaigns of Meghann Silverthorn, Doug Benevento, Jim Geddes and Judi Reynolds.
Campaign finance records show that an expenditure committee heavily financed by the American Federation of Teachers has spent extensively on candidates Julie Keim, Ronda Scholting, Bill Hodges and Barbra Chase.
In the Thompson School District in Loveland, four candidates endorsed by the local Republican Party have raised $33,000. McVaney and Nagel have donated $26,000 of that money.
The five candidates who are not part of the slate collected $15,000. Donors to some of the candidates included the Public Education Committee, which gave more than $1,800.
Janice Marchman, an incumbent, said she worries that some of the Republican-backed candidates have suggested that Thompson could model its reforms after the efforts in Douglas County.
"I don't know that Thompson can handle Douglas-style education reform," Marchman said, citing higher numbers of English learners and children in poverty.
Robert Rumfelt, co-founder of Liberty Watch, a group that pushes for limited government, said his organization did not get the response it hoped for when it submitted a petition asking trustees to change the way the district interacts and negotiates with the teachers union.
Rumfelt, who supports the conservative slate of candidates, said donations from McVaney and Nagel should not be an issue in the race.
"The guys that run for the union slate, they just get money," Rumfelt said. "So, if there are people who are successful and share values of the conservative candidates, I don't see that that is a problem."
McVaney and Nagel have also contributed $26,000 to a group of candidates running as a conservative slate in the Greeley-Evans School District.
In Mesa County Valley School District 51, the conservative candidates and their supporters have made no bones about the fact that, if elected, they would follow Douglas County's policies. They don't like teachers unions and say they are only one seat away from gaining the majority on the school board.
Democrats "are petrified we are going to push for vouchers and more charter schools," said Linda Gregory, president of the Mesa County Republican Women and a board member of Freedom Colorado, a Tea Party group.
Former Grand Junction Mayor Jim Spehar, whose wife is a teacher and development coordinator in Mesa District 51, said the efforts by conservatives to win school board elections have gone too far.
Spehar said he has seen the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party turn what, by law, is supposed to be a nonpartisan election into an overtly partisan battle with the aid of outside money.
The Mesa Valley candidates running as a conservative slate have raised $24,595.Of that, about $21,000 came fromMcVaney and Nagel.
The candidates not aligned with the conservative cause have raised a total of $33,157. Most of that has come from local donors, including a few Republicans and the Mesa Valley Education Association.
Note how the story is used to characterize Republicans in a negative light. Republicans have “gone too far.” They have attended a fundraiser that “is not required to disclose its donors.” They have turned the election “into an overtly partisan battle with the aid of outside money.” They “don’t like teachers unions.” They use the school board “to make a political statement” and that’s “really sad.”
This is a “News” story in The Denver Post.
Return to Bottom