Opposition candidates get labor backing

National teachers’ union paying for TV ads, mailers, door hangers

Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation teachers union, speaks June 8 during contract negotiations at Douglas County High School. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ourcoloradonews.com

A campaign committee largely funded by money from the local and national teachers’ unions is supporting the four candidates who aim to change the direction of the current Douglas County School Board.

The Committee for Better Schools Now, an independent expenditure committee based in Parker, reported Nov. 1 it has collected $230,500. That includes $110,000 from the American Federation of Teachers and $40,000 from the AFT’s state chapter.

An additional $70,000 is from the Committee for Great Douglas County Schools, an 8-month-old nonprofit funded by the AFT Solidarity 527.

The Douglas County School District’s longstanding collective bargaining agreement with the Douglas County Federation — AFT’s local affiliate — expired in mid-2012 after negotiations between the two sides failed.

The Committee for Better Schools Now is advocating for Barbra Chase, Bill Hodges, Julie Keim and Ronda Scholting — candidates supported by community-based groups who believe parents’ concerns no longer are considered by the school board. It has spent about $197,500; $95,000 of that on mailers and door hangers and an additional $74,500 on television commercials.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity has spent about $350,000 on the “It’s Working” ad campaign, which supports the current school board’s education reform policies.

The Douglas County Republican Central Committee — which endorses the four candidates who support the current board — reported in its Nov. 1 filing it has spent about $46,000 on the election. Most of that is categorized as “fundraising expenses.” The GOP-endorsed candidates are Doug Benevento, Jim Geddes, Judi Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn.

School board vice president Kevin Larsen said the recently released filing from The Committee for Better Schools Now was long awaited.

“We’ve known all along they were involved in organizing and messaging and advocating for the candidates they support,” he said. “Friday’s financial disclosure shows they’re definitely active, have a lot at stake in the outcome of this election, and are expending considerable resources to assist with that.” 

Douglas County Federation president Brenda Smith said in September that the local AFT affiliate had $40,000 earmarked for the election, and that the AFT would contribute an undetermined amount of money.

“When you talk about money being from the outside or inside, the money that came in from AFT is there to give the teachers a voice, and that’s what it did in this campaign,” she said. “Of course AFT is going to be part of ensuring kids have a quality education and teachers have a voice in developing that environment.”

Smith noted the money used for campaign purposes is designated specifically for that purpose by members and does not come from union dues.

The Committee for Better Schools Now’s stated purpose is “to support candidates who are focused on what’s best for children rather than adult-style politics” for the Douglas County school board.