Financial gaps widen between school board campaigns

Slate candidates have raised more than $20,000; competitors, less than $1,000


This year’s four school board candidates filed their latest reports of contributions and expenditures Sept. 30, which saw the financial margins between competing campaigns widen as Election Day, Nov. 5, draws closer.

Two of five seats are up for election, with Rob Applegate and Stephanie Schooley running in District 3 and Joan Chávez-Lee and Susan Miller running in District 4. Each candidate is campaigning for the board for the first time.

Applegate is a board member for multiple education organizations, including the Colorado Military Academy. Schooley serves as executive director of higher-education nonprofit Campus Compact of the Mountain West.

In District 4, Chávez-Lee is a former Jeffco teacher and principal. Miller has served on a number of Jeffco PTAs, including as the former president of the Wheat Ridge High School PTSA.

Chávez-Lee and Schooley are running as a slate, while Miller and Applegate are running independently.

As of Sept. 30, Schooley had raised $21,720 in contributions, and $115 in non-monetary contributions. Her competitor, Applegate, had raised $994.57.

Chávez-Lee had raised $21,613, and Miller had raised $799.

Who’s contributed?

Chávez-Lee is one of the leading contributors to any Jefferson County school board campaign this year, having donated $6,000 to her own campaign so far.

For Schooley, many of her contributors have been close friends, she said. Schooley and Chávez-Lee have also received financial contributions from a number of past and present Jeffco leaders.

Current board members Ron Mitchell and Amanda Stevens and former members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper have all donated to both campaigns. Board member Ali Lasell has also contributed to Schooley’s campaign.

Miller, running against Chávez-Lee, suggested that some current Jeffco leaders have contributed to those whose plans align with theirs. She said that she would like to reexamine some current school board approaches.

Namely, Miller believes the district should change its approach to promoting student achievement, as standardized test scores have “remained stagnant” for more than a decade, she said. “Why do you want to keep the status quo when our children are losing ground?”

Union endorsement

Both Schooley and Chávez-Lee were also endorsed by the JCEA Small Donor Committee, made up of union members representing educators, support professionals and administrators. The group provided $10,000 to each campaign, nearly half of what each candidate has raised.

JCEA has endorsed school board candidates for decades and holds interviews to determine which candidate to endorse, said committee chair Jon Cefkin.

Following the 2013 election, the committee greatly increased its financial support for candidates because “we realized we needed a bigger voice,” Cefkin said. Further, the group wanted to stay on-par with donations made to candidates whom the unions did not endorse, he said.

This year, Applegate, Schooley and Chávez-Lee filled out the committee’s questionnaire and interviewed with the JCEA. Miller said she was unsure whether she would go for the endorsement and did not return the questionnaire before the JCEA made its decision, though she plans to upload her responses to her campaign website.

Schooley and Chávez-Lee “had answers that aligned with our beliefs and had obviously thought about how they could support our students and teachers,” Cefkin said.

In the 2015 and 2017 elections, the JCEA endorsed Susan Harmon, Brad Rupert and Ron Mitchell, all of whom were elected in 2015 and reelected in 2017.

The three candidates raised more than $45,000 in 2015 and more than $50,000 in 2017. All three raised more than ten times what their competitors did in each election.

But it isn’t unheard of for the candidate with lesser funds to win a Jeffco school board election. In 2013, election winners Julie Williams and John Newkirk raised approximately $7,000 each, and District 5 winner Ken Witt raised about $11,000. The candidates won over their competitors, all of whom raised $25,000 or more.

Covering the costs

As of yet, this year’s campaign donation amounts are lower than previous campaigns; Applegate said one reason may be a growing reliance on digital communication, as is the case with his campaign.

He hasn’t felt the need to raise money for yard signs, he said, instead relying on his campaign website and Facebook ads. These methods are more informative and reach more people than hard-copy materials do, and his roughly-$1,000 fund has been enough to cover the costs, he said.

Even still, in a countywide race for the votes of more than 180,000 people, fundraising is an essential part of a campaign, Schooley said.

“It’s a little bit of a barrier for people. There’s a question around who has the privilege of running,” she said. “I’ve been very grateful for the people investing in me.”


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.