Outsider spends in school races
Fifteen thousand dollars donated this fall to local school board candidates came from a Front Range billionaire who pumped a total of $30,000 into campaign coffers for three Douglas County School Board candidates in 2011.
C. Edward McVaney of Greenwood Village donated $5,000 apiece to the campaigns of District 51 School Board candidates Pat Kanda (District C), Mike Lowenstein (District D) and John Sluder (District E). McVaney also donated $15,000 total this year to three candidates in the Thompson School Board race in Loveland.
McVaney founded private school Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch in 2007. The high school was one of the private schools within Douglas County School District boundaries interested in participating in a voucher program that would use school district money to help pay a student’s tuition at a private school. The program has been at least temporarily suspended due to a lawsuit.
Kanda said he has never met McVaney. He said a representative of McVaney’s called him a couple weeks ago telling him McVaney wanted to donate to his campaign.
“I was kind of speechless because I hadn’t anticipated spending a lot of money on a campaign,” Kanda said.
Kanda said he is undecided on the topic of vouchers but believes McVaney and he share beliefs on hard work in the classroom. A working number for McVaney could not be found online Tuesday.
Sluder said he also had never spoken to McVaney but said a representative of his told Sluder that McVaney saw his website and liked his message, particularly his thoughts about giving students a real world education and multiple pathways to graduation. Sluder said the representative said nothing about vouchers or Douglas County. Sluder said the donation will help him spread his message, not shape it.
“I made sure no strings were attached” to the donation, Sluder said.
District C candidate John Williams said he would feel uncomfortable taking $5,000 from someone he didn’t know from out of town, adding he was not sure why McVaney would donate to a campaign here. District E candidate Greg Mikolai, who is running for re-election, said he is concerned the donation indicates McVaney wants support for vouchers from local school board members. He said he fears a voucher system here would strip funding from schools and leave the district with fewer teachers and a greater percentage of students with complex behavioral and educational needs.
“I’m disturbed that we have somebody coming in and for all intents and purposes trying to buy our education. He owns private schools in Douglas County and he wants vouchers, so everybody do the math,” Mikolai said.
Mikolai’s largest donor was local teacher representation group Mesa Valley Education Association, which gave him $3,000 and paid $877.59 for campaign pens, postcards, park permits for an event, polling and postage used by the association to campaign. The same amount of monetary and non-monetary donations were made to District D candidate Tom Parrish. MVEA spent $676.09 on postage, permits, polling and postcards for District C candidate John Williams.
Williams received a $500 donation from the Denver-based Public Education Committee, the small donor branch of the state teacher representation group Colorado Education Association (Parrish and Mikolai each got $1,000 from the same group), but no cash from MVEA. The local association’s president, Darren Cook, said the group decided to split money between Parrish and Mikolai because members felt Williams “had the ability to fundraise on his own more than other candidates.”
Cook said the group routinely gives to school board candidates that they endorse. He said the group of 900 District 51 teachers offered to spend money on about 5,000 mailers and other supplies for its three candidates of choice. He said he does not expect the money to influence board decision-making when it comes to annual teacher contract negotiations between the school district and MVEA.
“Anyone in negotiations knows (Mikolai) doesn’t always vote our way nor should he feel the need to,” Cook said.
Cook said the association is unlikely to spend more this campaign season, with its funds down to $1,384.69.
Tuesday was the first deadline of the fall campaign season for school board candidates to file campaign finance reports with the Secretary of State’s Office. All six candidates with a campaign committee surpassed previous records for campaign contributions in the local school board race as of the last day mentioned on the report, last Thursday.
Parrish led the candidates with $12,012.99 in monetary and in-kind donations, followed by Williams with $8,879, Mikolai with $8,322.26, District D candidate Mike Lowenstein with $6,813, John Sluder in District E with $5,933 and Kanda with $5,269.
District C candidate Lonnie White does not have a campaign committee.