Follow the money

Losing Douglas County school board candidates spent more than winners, records show

Randy Mills, a member of the Elevate slate, addresses a crowd of Douglas County voters at a candidate forum. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

The losing candidates in this fall’s politically charged Douglas County school board election spent about $57,000 more collectively on their individual campaigns than their opponents, new records show.

The Elevate Douglas County Slate — which included Debora Scheffel, Randy Mills, Grant Nelson and Ryan Abresch — spent $139,911 on advertising, bank fees and other operations during the campaign.

The CommUnity Slate — made up of Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor, Anthony Graziano and Kevin Leung — spent $83,419. The candidates, who won handily, also recorded more than $35,000 in in-kind donations, items such as food and office supplies that were purchased for their campaigns by other individuals or groups.

Leung raised the most of any candidate during the waning days of the campaign, $1,817, according to records. Most candidates raised only a few hundred dollars during the last reporting period, Oct. 30 through Dec. 2.

The final finance records from the individual candidates, which were due at midnight Thursday, provide only part of the story. Outside groups including the nation’s second largest teachers union and high-profile Colorado Republican donors spent heavily to influence the election. The committee backed by the teachers union, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids, in a report also due Thursday reported spending more than $147,ooo in the last days of the election. The Republican committee’s final spending report is due in January.

Americans for Prosperity, a free-market “social welfare” nonprofit that is not required to disclose how much it raises or spends so long as it does not advocate expressly for individual candidates, has said it spent “six-figures” to help influence the election. AFP, which is associated with the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, advocates for more school choice options, including vouchers.

The suburban Denver school district’s controversial private-school voucher program drove much of the debate in the election. The Elevate slate supported keeping the prolonged legal battle around the program alive. The CommUnity slate promised to do away with the program and the legal defense  — a promise they kept earlier this week.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”