Most local cash goes to three in District 51 races

Six District 51 School Board candidates have collected a total of $27,752.59 from donors within Mesa County, with 89 percent of that money going to just three of those candidates, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

Candidates John Williams, Tom Parrish and Greg Mikolai collected $24,757.59 of that total, leaving just under $3,000 in donations coming from inside Mesa County for Pat Kanda, Mike Lowenstein and John Sluder.

The potential for influence from the largest donors inside and outside the county has some candidates on both sides concerned.

Parrish, a candidate in District D, leads the other board hopefuls in both local donations and donations overall, with $10,851 worth of donations coming from 96 local donors to his campaign through Oct. 10. Another $1,020 came from donors outside the county ($1,000 from Denver-based Public Education Committee and $20 from a woman in Riverton, Utah), plus $141.99 in non-itemized donations. Non-itemized contributions are from individuals who donate less than $20 to a campaign and therefore do not have to provide their names or addresses for public record.

A thousand dollars of the local total came from Parrish himself. Parrish and District E candidate Mikolai each got $3,877.59 in money and in-kind contributions from District 51 teacher representation group Mesa Valley Education Association, which donated $509 in in-kind donations for Williams as well.

Parrish, who worked in various teaching and administrative jobs in District 51 before retiring from the district in 2008, said gathering donations from local contributors, including the teacher’s association, is “critically important.” He asserted the donations from MVEA will not cloud his decision-making, if elected, during annual teacher salary negotiations between the school board and MVEA.

“If anyone has worked with me and seen the relationship that I’ve had with ex-MVEA presidents and saw the kinds of discussions we had behind closed doors about issues germane to teachers, one certainly wouldn’t get the feeling I’m a patsy for the union,” he said.

Parrish’s opponent in District D, Lowenstein, said he doesn’t believe a large donor will have an impact on his future actions, either. Lowenstein, like District C candidate Kanda and District E candidate Sluder, received $5,000 from Greenwood Village-based JD Edwards Corporation co-founder and Valor Christian High School benefactor C. Edward McVaney earlier this month. In addition to their single donations from outside the county, Lowenstein received a sum of $1,813 from 30 local donors, Sluder got $913 from 18 Mesa County donors and Kanda collected $269 from seven local contributors.

“I do not think there is anything wrong with a person on the Front Range who happens to agree with my ideas giving me some financial support. No matter who gives me financial support, my ideas are my ideas and will not be influenced if he has different ideas,” Lowenstein said.


McVaney’s support for local school board candidates concerned Mikolai, who himself got $1,000 from the Public Education Committee and $20 from an individual in Minnesota. The rest of his 43 donors live in Mesa County.

“He’s coming in and he’s going to try to shove vouchers down people’s throats,” Mikolai said, referring to Valor Christian’s involvement in a temporarily suspended voucher system in Douglas County. “How can they say there are strings attached to my MVEA contributions and no strings attached to theirs?”

Lowenstein and Sluder have expressed interest in exploring a voucher system in District 51 but Kanda said he’s “still torn over vouchers.” The two board members who are not up for election this fall, Jeff Leany and Ann Tisue, said they are not interested in exploring a local voucher program while the voucher system in Douglas County is stalled by a lawsuit.

Leany, who has endorsed Sluder, Lowenstein and Kanda, said he fears the candidates who have received donations from MVEA will “answer to the unions.” Leany said board members agreed they wanted a one-year contract with MVEA and for “lanes,” which are pay increases for teachers who have earned more education credit or degrees, to remain frozen for another year. Leany said he and Tisue were not present for the last day of negotiations this spring and were surprised to learn afterward that remaining board members agreed to a three-year contract and the un-freezing of lanes.

Mikolai said board members compromised for a reintroduction of lanes at 80 percent of their previous worth in the District 51 teacher salary scale in exchange for easing MVEA negotiators off the idea of a four-day school week. Mikolai said he has disagreed with MVEA presidents for four years, citing teacher salary cuts during MVEA and school board negotiations in 2010 and 2011, and said negotiations were still “heated” this spring.

“Anybody who thinks I’m going along with MVEA, that’s not why” the association donated to his campaign, Mikolai said. “It’s because I’m willing to listen to and work with them. It isn’t going to be buddy-buddy all the time.”


When it comes to campaign spending, there also is a three-three split among candidates, but not with the same lines drawn. District C candidate Williams has spent the most of any candidate as of Oct. 10 with local businesses — $4,340.69. He also received most of his 80 donations from within the county, with the exception of $1,906.67 from nine donors outside the county. He said those donors are family members or friends or the Public Education Committee, which donated $500 and $166.67 worth of polling services to Williams’ campaign.

Also doing the majority of their spending with local companies as of Oct. 10 were Kanda, Sluder and Lowenstein, who spent $1,000, $1,122.67, and $1,190.47 in the county, respectively. Their only outside expenses were $875 each to Littleton-based consulting company Odd November and $2 in bank fees for Sluder.

Mikolai and Parrish spent $249.72 and $633.73 locally, respectively. Parrish sent $5,634.70 to companies outside the county and Mikolai paid $3,456.14 to outsiders, according to campaign reports. Parrish said some of that included dollars he tried to spend here with local printers, but they outsourced the work so it was “not under my control.”

Kanda said local spending is a high priority for him, but “sometimes you’re handcuffed where you can spend contributions because there are strings attached to it.” Kanda said the check from McVaney came with the stipulation he work with Odd November for creation of mailers that were sent to thousands of local homes this week featuring Kanda, Lowenstein and Sluder.

“If there are no strings, I spend contributions locally,” Kanda said.


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I guess my questions are, if Kanda knew there were strings attached, why did he accept the contribution?  And who knows what will be required in the future? 

It reminds me of the scene in The Godfather where Bonasera the undertaker comes to Don Vito on his daughter’s wedding day and asks him to seek justice in the brutal beating of Bonasera’s daughter.  Don Vito reluctantly assents, and tells Bonasera,  “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me…”

It all seems a little slimy and has no place in a local School Board election.

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