Denver Board of Ed races: Deeply political, charged and spendy

Candidates in the Denver Board of Education races filed campaign finance reports Tuesday, and the reports reveal that the “reform” candidates are winning the money war.

The reform movement values performance-based teacher evaluations, school choice and an increase in the number of charter and innovation schools.

Pro-neighborhood, union-backed candidates worry about the standardization of public education. They fear the community hasn’t been involved nearly enough in the quickly changing nature of District schools.

The fundraising in the race for the board’s At-Large seat is the most lopsided. Reform candidate and former Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien pulled in $173,000 in contributions, more than five times the amount contributions reported by Mike Kiley, her opponent. Kiley’s campaign listed $32,000 in donations.

The other reform candidates have also raised more than their opponents.

Reformer Michael Johnson reports $151,000 to “neighborhooder” Meg Schomp’s nearly $32,000; pro-reform president of the Denver Urban League Landri Taylor listed $72,000 to his opponent Roger Kilgore’s $33,000; and Rosemary Rodriguez raised $89,000, while Rosario de Baca’s report is not yet on the Secretary of State’s website.

The pro-neighborhood candidates did receive substantial support in non-monetary contributions from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, a teacher’s union. Kiley, Schomp, and Kilgore all report thousands of dollars in staff support and voter outreach provided by DCTA.

The candidates have been arguing that the board is besieged by politics and that they’re running to take politics out of education. The election should be “about the kids,” they say. But school board elections have launched many political careers, where candidates test out ideological spring boards and develop loyal followings.

The hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent wooing voters in these elections demonstrates the traditional nature of the campaigns.