Campaign cash

Big donations from teachers union highlight first Denver school board campaign finance report

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Denver school board candidates Lisa Flores and Michael Kiley debated Monday night.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a late filing from District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The first campaign finance reports in the race for three Denver school board seats show big money flowing into a competitive contest in northwest Denver and large investments from the teachers union in candidates opposed to the current regime.

Lisa Flores, a former program officer with the Gates Family Foundation running for the open District 5 seat, easily led all the candidates, raising nearly $80,000. She also dwarfed the other candidates in expenditures: nearly $63,000.

A committee associated with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, meanwhile, was responsible for the lion’s share of donations to Flores’ opponent, Michael Kiley, at-large candidate Robert Speth and District 1 candidate Kristi Butkovich.

The DCTA Fund’s $38,000 given to Kiley represented nearly 70 percent of the $55,000 he raised; the $25,000 given to Speth accounted for more than 60 percent of the roughly $40,000 the candidate reported; the $21,000 contributed to Butkovich represented more than 90 percent of the $23,195 her campaign collected.

The reports — the first glimpse at the money and players invested in the campaign for control over the governing body of the state’s largest school district — were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year.

Butkovich, who is challenging District 1 incumbent Anne Rowe for the southeast Denver seat, did not file a report by the deadline, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Her report was filed Wednesday, a day late, making her campaign subject to a $50 fine.

Follow the Money | Use our database to track donations to candidates.

Rowe raised nearly $19,000 in the reporting period, to go along with nearly $16,000 she already had on hand from earlier fundraising, records show.

Board president Allegra “Happy” Haynes, fending off a challenge from Speth, brought in just over $16,000 in the fundraising period. She previously had $2,800 in hand. By the first campaign finance deadline four years ago, Haynes had raised $213,000.

With three seats in play, the election result will not shift the balance of power on the DPS board. Since the last election, the board has consistently sided with the reforms of Superintendent Tom Boasberg by a 6-1 margin. Still, the result will shape the debate moving forward as the district seeks to achieve ambitious — some say far-fetched — goals to lift student achievement by 2020.

Flores not only brought in the most money, but she had the largest number of donations. Her notable donors included Stacy Schusterman, chair of oil and gas company Samson Energy Company, LLC ($5,000); Highlands Ranch retiree Walter Kirkham ($5,000); Philip Reyes of Orange, Calif., ($5,000); Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman and CEO Daniel Ritchie ($2,500); Fox Family Foundation president John Fox ($2,500); and California-based Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg ($2,000), who also wrote the bestselling book, “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Others gave more, but another bold-faced name on the list is Gov. John Hickenlooper ($500). Flores formerly was a policy analyst for Hickenlooper when he was Denver mayor.

Flores’ campaign spent its haul on advertising, consultants and fundraising, records show.

Rowe brought in more modest donations in her defense of her seat in District 1. Ritchie was her biggest supporter ($2,500). Haynes — whose challenge from Speth came late — raised the least amount of money of the candidates who filed campaign finance reports. Her largest gift was $1,500.

In the 2013 board race, small and large gifts to pro-reform candidates outnumbered gifts to critics three to one.

The first campaign finance deadlines for committees not affiliated with candidates is Thursday, which will provide a fuller picture. Some committees, however, already have filed their first reports. The Public Education Committee, a small donor committee of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, reported a $6,500 contribution to Kiley.

One major player had yet to file — Raising Colorado, which is affiliated with Democrats for Education Reform. The group is well-funded and has been active in the 2015 campaign. Well before election season, Raising Colorado received $100,000 from New York-based Education Reform Now, according to its last report with the state, which covers April through June.


¿Cuantos niños en su escuela son inmunizados?

Monserrat Cholico, 8, en la Crawford Kids Clinic en Aurora en 2015 (Denver Post).

Chalkbeat recolectó datos para ayudar a los padres a entender si las escuelas de sus hijos están protegidos de enfermedades. Busque su escuela en nuestra base de datos.

“Immunization rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes que están totalmente inmunizados.

“Exemption rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes cuyos padres optaron por no vacunar a sus hijos.

“Compliance rate” representa el porcentaje de estudiantes que están siguiendo la ley de Colorado. La ley dice que los estudiantes deben obtener vacunas o firmar formularios de exención.

Choosing college

State’s college attendance rate shows slight turnaround

PHOTO: Oliver Morrison

The percentage of Colorado high school students enrolling in college right after graduation increased slightly in 2014, according to a new report from the Department of Higher Education.

Of 2014’s 53,771 graduates, 55.8 percent went on to college immediately, up from the 2013 rate but three percentage points below the record in 2009, according to the Report on the Postsecondary Progress and Success of High School Graduates (full copy at bottom of this article).

In the recession year of 2009, when the state started compiling the report, 58.8 percent of high school grads went to college.

“The most recent, 2014, is the first cohort whose enrollment rate increased from the previous year,” the report noted. “Previously, all graduating classes included in this report had a lower enrollment rate than their previous year.”

The report “is good news because so many of the jobs in our technology and information based economy require post-secondary credentials,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who’s also executive director of the department. “However, the report also reveals that we have continuing and significant gaps in post-secondary outcomes and that students from certain demographic groups are doing much better than others. If we are to meet our education and workforce goals, we must do a better job of supporting low income, rural, and minority students so that they graduate with a credential that will lead to a living wage job.”

Overall college enrollment tends to rise when the economy is weak and drop when times improve. Fall enrollment in 2014 was 251,778, down from the recent high of 284,405 in 2011.

The report details continuing disparities between demographic groups in college attendance and success. Postsecondary enrollment for Latino students is nearly 20 percentage points below white students, and, after their first year of college, African-American students on average earn nearly 10 fewer credits than white students, it said.

“As Colorado’s demographics continue to change and labor markets increasingly demand quality postsecondary credentials, ensuring the state’s future economic prosperity requires that these educational gaps be highlighted and strategically addressed,” the report said.

The report also breaks out college-going rates for individual districts. The district with the highest college attendance rate was Limon, with 84.4 percent of its 32 2014 graduates going on to higher education.

Larger districts in the top 10 included Cheyenne Mountain, Douglas County, Lewis-Palmer and Littleton.

The Plateau Valley district in eastern Mesa County had the lowest rate, 16 percent. Metro-area districts in the bottom 10 included Adams 14, Englewood, Sheridan and Westminster.

Some 76 percent of 2014 grads attended Colorado colleges, and 74 percent of those students attended four-year schools. The most popular schools were Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Boulder. Front Range Community College attracted the largest number of students enrolling in two-year schools.

The annual study examines not only college-going rates but also grade point averages, credits earned, persistence and graduation rates going back to the class of 2009.

Members of the high school class of 2014 who attended Colorado colleges had an average grade point average of 2.78 during their freshman year. Those students completed an average of 30 credits by the end of 2014-15.

Search for your district’s college-going rates here:

And read the Department of Higher Education’s report here: