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Union and charter groups spending money in Aurora school board races

A hand holds a strip of “I Voted Today” stickers.

The six Aurora school board candidates have raised more than $59,000 ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

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Several groups have stepped in with money to help support Aurora school board candidates this election.

Aurora’s seven-member school board has four seats up for grabs. One incumbent and five other candidates are competing for the spots. 

Collectively, the six candidates have raised more than $59,000. In addition, outside groups have spent at least $145,000 on swaying voters with mailers, robocalls, and online ads.

Aurora questionnaire box

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To read the candidates’ answers to questions about their priorities in their own words, check out Chalkbeat’s candidate questionnaires, and this page for more election coverage.

So far, candidates who are running against a teachers union-backed slate of candidates have gotten far more outside support. Groups backing union-supported candidates Debbie Gerkin (the incumbent), Tramaine Duncan, and Michael Carter are being far outspent by groups seeking to elect Anne Keke and Danielle Tomwing. Christy Cummings is receiving the least outside support of any candidate opposing the union slate, with only one group reporting expenditures.

A large chunk of the money supporting non-union candidates has come from Raising Colorado, a reform-minded group supporting strategies such as school choice and charter schools.

It’s also the first year the Colorado League of Charter Schools created an independent expenditure committee that is spending money on school board races. In Aurora, the group is supporting Keke and Tomwing, who both are immigrant moms with charter school connections. Keke has been a teacher at an Aurora charter school, while Tomwing is a board member of her daughter’s Aurora charter school.

It’s not the first time Aurora school board races have attracted outside dollars, but it is a newer phenomenon than in districts like Denver — and the amount of money may be growing. In 2017, some outside groups funded Aurora races for the first time, but were ultimately outspent by union groups.

One other group not listed below — Colorado’s Moms and Dads — has only reported expenditures such as Facebook ads. The group did not categorize those expenses as electioneering communication, meaning it did not mention a candidate in the ads so it’s unclear if the messages were about the Aurora race or others elsewhere. 

The group’s website does state that it supports Cummings and candidates running in other school districts across the state. The group describes itself as parent-led and “spurred by the failures of school boards to stand up for children during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Another report on spending is due Nov. 1. 

Here’s a rundown of what the Aurora candidates have raised and spent:

Anne Keke

Total raised: $26,692.10

Total spent: $7,440.88

Big donors: Steve Halstedt, Centennial Ventures, ($5,000); Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes, ($2,500); Dan Ritchie, Denver philanthropist ($1,000)

Danielle Tomwing

Total raised: $15,350

Total spent: $0

Big donors: CLCS Action 527, affiliated with the Colorado League of Charter Schools, ($5,000); Steve Halstedt, Centennial Ventures, ($5,000); Pat Hamill, CEO of Oakwood Homes, ($2,500); Dan Ritchie, Denver philanthropist ($1,000)

Tramaine Duncan

Total raised: $5,995

Total spent: $2,851.77

Big donors: Public Education Committee, affiliated with the union Colorado Education Association, ($1,125); Linnea Reed-Ellis, president of the Aurora teachers union, ($350)

Debbie Gerkin

Total raised: $5,220.19

Total spent: $498.52

Big donors: Aurora Council For Teachers & Students, affiliated with union Colorado Education Association, ($2,000); Public Education Committee, affiliated with the union Colorado Education Association, ($1,125)

Michael Carter

Total raised: $4,725

Total spent: $61.35

Big donors: Aurora Council For Teachers & Students, affiliated with union Colorado Education Association, ($2,000); Public Education Committee, affiliated with the union Colorado Education Association, ($1,125); Steve O’Dorisio, Adams County commissioner, ($100)

Christy Cummings

Total raised: $1,746.00

Total spent: $1,051.58

Big donors: Danielle Jurinsky, candidate for Aurora City Council, ($500); Christy Cummings, donations to her own campaign, ($826)

Committee: Students Deserve Better

Total spent in Aurora: ​$49,430.72

Funded by: Aurora Education Association ($20,000); Aurora Council For Teachers & Students ($7,000); Colorado Fund for Children and Public Education, affiliated with the Colorado Education Association ($257,000)

Expenditures: $49,430.72 for mailers supporting Debbie Gerkin, Tramaine Duncan, and Michael Carter, who were all endorsed by the Aurora Education Association.

Committee: Raising Colorado

Total spent in Aurora: $65,659.77

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: $39,974.42 on mailers and advertising for Anne Keke, and $25,685.35 on mailers for Danielle Tomwing.

Committee: CLCS Action IEC

Total spent in Aurora: Somewhere between ​​$27,728 and $137,310. This committee’s expenditure reports sometimes group spending on Aurora school board candidates with spending on school board candidates in neighboring districts including Denver. 

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

Expenditures: $13,424.64 on advertising supporting Danielle Tomwing, and $14,304.23 on mailers supporting Tomwing and Anne Keke, plus another $109,581.52 on mailers and digital advertising supporting a slate of candidates across the state, including Danielle Tomwing and Anne Keke.

Committee: Ready Colorado Action Fund

Total spent in Aurora: $2,415.32

Funded by: Ready Colorado ($602,000)

Expenditures: $890.60 on robocalls and $1,524.72 on text messages in support of Danielle Tomwing, Anne Keke, and Christy Cummings.

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