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Those involved in the school board race have mixed feelings about the American Federation of Teachers' donation of $300,000 to Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, a committee that backs the four anti-reform candidates.
Michelle Lyng, campaign manager of the Elevate slate, referred to the anti-reform candidates as the “union-backed” slate in an Oct. 18 news release.
“This campaign finance filing completely dispels the notion that supporters of our opponents are simply concerned parents,” Lyng said.
When asked about the donation by the national teachers' union, the president of the Douglas County Federation — the local teachers' union and a chapter of the AFT — had the following response:
"We’re proudly involved in this election," Kallie Leyba said in an email. "Anyone who cares about our students should be involved in this election. As you are probably aware, in the last eight years we have seen this district slip.
"We encourage our members to do everything they can to volunteer for candidates who will support public education and ensure every child in Douglas County has a high-quality educational experience."
The collective bargaining agreement between the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Federation expired in 2012 and negotiations for a new one were unsuccessful. At one time, the majority of teachers in the county were members of the union, but that number has declined since the expiration of the agreement — but to what extent is unknown, as the union doesn't disclose membership numbers.
The anti-reform candidates said the large contribution by the national teachers' union to Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids was a surprise. Candidate Anthony Graziano had no communication with representatives from the AFT, nor did the federation ask permission to support him, he said.
“Outside interests in our local school board election are a direct result of reform-minded leadership's desire to put Douglas County on the national stage regarding education reform,” Graziano said.
The registered agent for Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, Ronda Scholting, deferred comment and requested that inquiries be sent through the committee's general email. No response had been received as of the afternoon of Oct. 18.
Additionally, a request for comment from the AFT did not receive a response.
— Alex DeWind
Candidates' campaigns in this year's races for Douglas County School Board have already raised more than double the amount of money received by hopefuls two years ago.
But the $168,850 donated directly to those campaigns this year is only a fraction of the money being spent to sway voters in an election that could change the direction of the school district, which has been led by reform-minded board members since 2009.
Committees and groups supportive of - but not affiliated with - candidates have injected more than half a million dollars into the race. Donations include hundreds of thousands of dollars by a national teachers' union to a Douglas County-based committee that opposes the board's reforms and at least tens of thousands to a Republican committee that seeks to ensure conservative candidates are elected throughout the state.
Here's a look at where the money is coming from and how it is being spent in what is officially a nonpartisan election that on Nov. 7 will decide four seats on the school board.
Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids
In early October, the American Federation of Teachers donated $300,000 to this committee, according to documents filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, based in Parker, registered as an independent expenditure committee - meaning it supports but does not affiliate with any candidates - on Sept. 22. On its website, douglaskids.com, the committee touts the four anti-reform candidates, Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor, Anthony Graziano and Kevin Leung. The committee's objective is to back candidates "who are supportive of strong Douglas County public schools and oppose candidates who are not, through activities not coordinated with any candidate," a registration form filed with the state says.
The American Federation of Teachers, a union based in Washington, D.C., represents 1.7 million members, according to its website.
Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids had raised $400,000 as of Oct. 16, with all of the money coming from two sources. The other contribution, $100,000, came in September from Citizens for Integrity, a group with a Denver post-office box and no other information publicly available.
The committee has spent roughly $238,372 on consultant and professional services for TV, digital and mail promotions, according to documents filed with the state.
The registered agent for the committee is Ronda Scholting, who made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the Douglas County School Board in 2013.
Colorado Republican Committee
A separate independent expenditure committee is supporting the Elevate slate, which is made up of Ryan Abresch, Debora Scheffel, Grant Nelson and Randy Mills. On its registration form with the state, the Colorado Republican Committee, based in Greenwood Village, says its purpose is to spend money "to support Republican candidates and influence or attempt to influence the election of Republican candidates to state and local public office."
The committee had raised $435,854 between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to documents filed with the state. Recent donations include $100,000 from the Anschutz Corp., an oil and gas company based in Denver, and $100,000 from Peter Coors, vice chairman of Molson Coors Brewing Co. Board of Directors.
Because the group supports various GOP candidates, it is not known which donations - or how much of the overall money raised - were specifically given to influence voters in the Douglas County School Board race. But documents show the committee has spent $49,827 on mailers and fliers promoting Elevate candidates. The registered agent for the committee is Mike McCauley.
Douglas County Parents
Registered with the state as a political committee, Douglas County Parents backs the four anti-reform candidates. The objective of the Highlands Ranch-based committee is to elect new directors who "support public education and oppose corporate education reform," its registration form says.
Since Dec. 9, 2016, the committee has raised $42,751 from small, local donations, according to documents filed with the state. No recent donations have exceeded $600. The committee has spent $28,241 on advertising and supplies. The registered agent for the committee is Connie Davison.
Americans for Prosperity
This conservative group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers is different from the others in that it is registered as a 501(c)4, a nonprofit organization that operates for the "promotion of social welfare," according to the IRS. Americans for Prosperity is not registered with the state, nor required to be, hence a report of its fundraising and spending was not available. But a spokeswoman for the group recently said it was amid a six-figure campaign to promote school choice in Douglas County, which has long been a mantra for reform-minded school board members.
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