CASTLE ROCK – While the entire country watches Douglas County to see how a contentious school board race in the state’s third-largest school district ends, one group of candidates is getting big money from the very outside sources they’ve claimed all along had no part in supporting them.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the national union organization associated with the local Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT), has contributed more than a quarter-million dollars to an Independent Expenditure Committee supporting its candidates. DCFT lost its collective bargaining rights with the district in 2012 after negotiations broke down.
AFT’s money so far has gone to out of state firms to support marketing, mailers, and television and digital ads.
The Independent Expenditure Committee collecting the money appears to attempt separation from another campaign committee supporting the same candidates while promising “no union contributions.” This campaign structure is similar to what has been seen in other school board races in Colorado in recent years.
Two slates of candidates are running for four open seats on the Douglas County school board. One slate, which calls itself Elevate Douglas County, is running on a platform of restoring civility to the district, supporting parental choice, and expanding vocational and technical education options.
The other slate, which has alternately called itself the “Dream Team,” the “CommUnity Slate,” and the “A+ Team,” is comprised of activists that opponents say are in the back pockets of the union. These candidates argue that the relatively high-performing district has been severely damaged by efforts to expand choice and reform and seek to return the district to where it was nearly a decade ago. These candidates and their supporters have long claimed they are not supported by money from outside of Douglas County or Colorado, drawing a distinction between “grassroots” and “cashroots.”
They have also gone so far to say that Douglas County would not see union spending like what Jefferson County Public Schools saw roll in during the 2015 election.
Yet, that is what has happened. The only thing different from the Jeffco races is that, this time, the union contributions were disclosed just as ballots go in the mail. The extent of union involvement in Jeffco’s school board race was not uncovered until after the 2015 election.
On Oct. 4, AFT donated $300,000 to the Independent Expenditure Committee Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids. Just a few days earlier, Citizens for Integrity, a liberal organization ran by Denver attorney Mark Grueskin, who has been instrumental in many education-related ballot measures that generally favor union perspectives, also contributed $100,000 to the same committee.
According to their registration with the Secretary of State’s office, which was filed September 22, their purpose is to “support one or more candidates for school board in Douglas County who are supportive of strong Douglas County Public Schools and oppose those candidates who are not.”
Expenditure reports show the group has paid NP Consulting in Washington D.C. $185,000 and specifically states the money is to support union-backed candidates Christina Schor, Anthony Graziano, Krista Holtzmann, and Kevin Leung and oppose the other slate made up of Grant Nelson, Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch, and Debora Scheffel. The money is for television and digital support.
They have paid Terris Barnes Walters in San Francisco more than $80,000 for mailers for the same purposes.
The other difference from Jeffco is that the registration of Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids came late in the game and only has donations from the union or other union-sympathetic organizations.
The separation from the political committee Douglas County Parents, which is also supporting the union-backed slate, allows the parent-group to continue to claim no union money.
However, Douglas School’s for Douglas Kids’ registered agent is listed as Ronda Scholting, who ran for school board against current board president Meghann Silverthorn in 2013 and lost. She was supported in that election by progressive and liberal entities such as Progressive Majority, a Washington D.C.-based group, and current Congressman and Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis.