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Reported spending in the Denver school board election tops $1 million

A collage of Denver school board campaign mailers.
Some of the mailers that have been sent to voters in the Denver school board election.
Erica Meltzer / Chalkbeat

Candidates and political committees have spent at least $1 million in this year’s Denver school board election, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State.

The bulk of that money — about $800,000 — has been spent by five independent expenditure committees. Such committees can spend unlimited amounts of money but cannot coordinate with candidates. This spending is often referred to as “outside spending.”

One of the committees, Students Deserve Better, is funded by Colorado teachers unions. The other four — Raising Colorado; Parents for Great Schools; CLCS Action; and Denver Students, Families, and Teachers United for Excellent Schools — are funded by local and national organizations supportive of education reform, such as the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Education reform is a set of strategies for improving public education that includes independently run charter schools.

The election is Nov. 2. Twelve candidates are running for four open seats on the board (see box). The winners will oversee a new superintendent, craft a strategic plan, and grapple with several long-simmering issues, including declining enrollment and continued disagreement over the role of independent charter schools and semi-autonomous innovation schools.

School board elections are held every two years. The 2019 school board election was the most expensive in Denver history, with spending topping out at $2.28 million.

This close to Election Day, candidates and independent expenditure committees must report their contributions and expenditures every two weeks. The last report was due Oct. 18 and included contributions and spending through Oct. 13. Candidates must also file reports of contributions of $1,000 or more within 24 hours. Committees must file reports of independent expenditures of $1,000 or more within 48 hours. The totals below reflect those reports.

Students Deserve Better

Total spent in Denver: $70,684

Funded by: Denver Classroom Teachers Association ($75,000); Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, affiliated with the Colorado Education Association ($257,000)

Expenditures: $48,153 for mailers supporting Scott Esserman, Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, Carrie Olson, and Michelle Quattlebaum, who were all endorsed by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association; $22,500 on door-to-door canvassing for Esserman, Gaytán, and Quattlebaum.

Denver Students, Families, and Teachers United for Excellent Schools

Total spent in Denver: $204,800

Funded by: Education Reform Now Advocacy ($60,000), affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform; 50CAN ($45,000), affiliated with Colorado’s Transform Education Now; Colorado League of Charter Schools ($40,000); Parents for Great Schools ($15,000); Stand for Children Inc. ($15,000); current school board member Angela Cobián ($26)

Expenditures: At least $85,000 on mailers supporting Vernon Jones Jr.; at least $26,000 on mailers and phone calls supporting Karolina Villagrana; and at least $92,000 on phone calls, text messages, and digital advertising supporting Jones, Villagrana, and Gene Fashaw. All three candidates have been endorsed by Transform Education Now, whose co-founder is married to Villagrana. Jones and Villagrana have also been endorsed by Stand for Children.

Parents for Great Schools

Total spent in Denver: $341,883

Funded by: Denver Families for Public Schools, a new pro-charter organization ($300,000)

Expenditures: At least $157,000 on mailers, digital advertising, and door-to-door canvassing supporting Gene Fashaw; at least $111,000 on mailers, digital advertising, and canvassing literature supporting Vernon Jones Jr.; at least $28,000 on mailers and digital advertising supporting Karolina Villagrana; and more than $4,000 on yard signs in support of all three.

Raising Colorado

Total spent in Denver: $120,114

Funded by: Education Reform Now Advocacy ($100,000); Parents for Great Schools ($20,000); CLCS Action, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools ($20,000); and TEN Collective Impact, affiliated with Transform Education Now ($20,000)

Expenditures: $108,856 on mailers supporting Vernon Jones Jr. and $11,258 on mailers supporting Karolina Villagrana.

CLCS Action IEC

Total spent in Denver: It’s difficult to calculate a total for this committee because its reports do not always delineate how much it spent on Denver school board candidates from how much it spent on school board candidates in neighboring Aurora Public Schools.

Funded by: CLCS Action, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools ($130,000)

Expenditures: $10,000 on digital advertising and $8,119 on mailers supporting Vernon Jones Jr., $20,741 on mailers supporting Gene Fashaw, and another $79,000 on mailers and digital advertising supporting Jones, Fashaw, Karolina Villagrana, and two Aurora candidates.

The 12 candidates themselves had raised at least $484,000 as of Monday and spent at least $205,000 through Oct. 13, according to campaign finance reports.

Scott Esserman, at-large

Total raised: $76,029

Total spent: $48,569

Big donors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund ($33,136)

Notable expenditure: $5,000 to Good Trouble Consulting, a firm registered to current school board member Tay Anderson.

Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2

Total raised: $68,960

Total spent: $20,451

Big donors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund ($42,636); Public Education Committee, affiliated with the Colorado Education Association ($10,000)

Carrie Olson, District 3

Total raised: $59,466

Total spent: $40,946

Big donors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund ($33,136)

Michelle Quattlebaum, District 4

Total raised: $55,223

Total spent: $19,703

Big donors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund ($40,636); Public Education Committee, affiliated with the Colorado Education Association ($5,000)

Karolina Villagrana, District 2

Total raised: $50,726

Total spent: $14,220

Big donors: Bruce Benson, former president of the University of Colorado ($10,000); Steven Halstedt, co-founder of Centennial Ventures ($5,000); Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes ($2,500); CLCS Action, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools ($2,500); Josh Scott, former president of Guild Education and co-founder of Craftsy ($2,500)

Nicky Yollick, at-large

Total raised: $46,644

Total spent: $33,006

Big donors: Eric Yollick, self-employed attorney in Texas ($12,000)

Vernon Jones Jr., at-large

Total raised: $45,098

Total spent: $3,663

Big donors: Bruce Benson, former president of the University of Colorado ($10,000); Steven Halstedt, co-founder of Centennial Ventures ($5,000); Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes ($2,500); CLCS Action, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools ($2,500); Josh Scott, former president of Guild Education and co-founder of Craftsy ($2,500)

Gene Fashaw, District 4

Total raised: $35,760

Total spent: $6,205

Big donors: Bruce Benson, former president of the University of Colorado ($10,000); Josh Scott, former president of Guild Education and co-founder of Craftsy ($5,000); CLCS Action, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools ($2,500)

Mike DeGuire, District 3

Total raised: $32,680

Total spent: $16,054

Big donors: Himself ($21,000)

José Silva, District 4

Total raised: $11,400

Total spent: $1,705

Big donors: Steven Halstedt, co-founder of Centennial Ventures ($5,000)

Jane Shirley, at-large

Total raised: $1,325

Total spent: $251

Marla Benavides, at-large

Total raised: $1,150

Total spent: $1,350

Correction: Due to an editing error, an expenditure made by Scott Esserman was attributed to another candidate. The article has been updated.

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