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Which DPS school board candidates are getting big bucks from Texas billionaires?

A second round of campaign finance reports filed in the Denver Public Schools school board election reveals a familiar pattern: the four so-called reform candidates continue to raise the most money, thanks to donations from high-profile reformers, such as Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold, while the four non-reform candidates get the bulk of their support from the Denver teachers union.

But will it make a difference on election day tomorrow?

As we explained in our recent cover story, "Drawing the Line," nine candidates are running for four open seats on the seven-member DPS school board.

Four of them -- Barbara O'Brien, Rosemary Rodriguez, Mike Johnson and Landri Taylor -- agree that the district is headed in the right direction. Four others -- Michael Kiley, Rosario C. de Baca, Meg Schomp and Roger Kilgore -- think the district is not. The ninth candidate, Joan Poston, is more of a wild card.

If voters fill at least three of the four open seats with candidates who disagree with DPS's current brand of reform -- which includes strategies such as closing and replacing failing schools, encouraging charter and innovation schools, and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores -- the 88,000-student district could undergo a big shift.

An image from the Give Smart website.
An image from the Give Smart website.

The latest campaign finance reports cover the period between October 15 and November 1. Ex-Lieutenant Governor O'Brien, who is running for the at-large seat, held on to her fundraising lead. The total amount she's raised is $191,299.

She was one of four candidates to receive a donation from the Arnolds, Houston billionaires who have their own foundation. One of the foundation's focuses is education reform; in a video on GiveSmart.org, the Arnolds talk about their decision to donate money to local school board races.

"We've given small sums to candidates who have initiated a platform of things that are beneficial for the students," says John Arnold, who made his money as a hedge fund manager. "Voters are very smart, and they don't like for a candidate to be perceived as trying to buy the election. So our donations are relatively small. We're not putting $50,000 in the race. It's just a couple thousand dollars here to show support for the candidates who are willing to take positions that might not be politically expedient."

Adds Laura Arnold, "What we have realized from school board races has been that what absolutely does not work is to have people who live outside a zip code support or fund a campaign for a school board race.... So what needs to happen is that rather than waiting for election season to fund somebody who's running in a certain zip code, what needs to happen is we all need to invest in grassroots activism from day one."

But the Arnolds seem to have deviated from that position -- at least in Denver.

Below, find a look inside the candidates' latest filings. The overall total is a combination of the money raised during this latest two-week reporting period and the money raised during the previous months, as reported in the candidates' first campaign finance filings.

AT-LARGE

Michael Kiley

Total monetary contributions: $4,009

Total non-monetary contributions: none

Notable donors: Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund: $579.25 non-monetary; consultant Eric Abarca: $1,250

Overall total: $36,469 monetary, $59,046 non-monetary

Barbara O'Brien

Total monetary contributions: $17,975

Total non-monetary contributions: none

Notable donors: Laura Arnold of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation: $5,000

Democrats for Education Reform: $2,000

Stand for Children, an education reform organization: $1,800

Katherine Bradley, president of CityBridge in Washington, D.C.: $1,000

Cathey Finlon, former president of the Denver Art Museum: $1,000

Walter Ulloa, president and CEO of Entravision: $1,000

Overall total: $191,299 monetary, $3,467 non-monetary

Joan Poston

Total monetary contributions: none

Total non-monetary contributions: none

Overall total: none

Continue to see how much money the other candidates raised.

DISTRICT 2

Rosario C. de Baca

Total monetary contributions: $5,170

Total non-monetary contributions: $579.25

Notable donors: DCTA Fund: $4,000 monetary, $579.25 non-monetary

Overall total: $23,335 monetary, $19,183 non-monetary

Rosemary Rodriguez

Total monetary contributions: $30,050

Total non-monetary contributions: none

Notable donors: Laura Arnold: $3,000

John Arnold: $3,000

Democrats for Education Reform: $2,000

Katherine Bradley: $1,000

Susan Daggett, wife of U.S. Senator Michael Bennet: $1,000

Cathey Finlon: $1,000

Michelle Lucero, attorney for Children's Hospital Colorado: $1,000

David Scanavino, urologist: $1,000

Overall total: $119,260 monetary

DISTRICT 3

Mike Johnson

Total monetary: $27,619

Total non-monetary: none

Notable donors: Patrick Hamill, founder of Oakwood Homes: $7,500

Laura Arnold: $5,000

Katherine Bradley: $2,000

Stand for Children: $1,800

Cannon Harvey, president and CEO of the Anschutz Company: $1,000

Harry Frampton, managing partner at East West Partners: $1,000

Overall total: $173,754 monetary, $6,567 non-monetary

Meg Schomp

Total monetary: $14,220

Total non-monetary: $579.25

Notable donors: DCTA Fund: $12,000 monetary, $579.25 non-monetary; outgoing DPS board member Jeanne Kaplan: $1,000

Overall total: $46,169 monetary, $25,171 non-monetary

DISTRICT 4

Roger Kilgore

Total monetary: $12,010

Total non-monetary: $1,079.25

Notable donors: DCTA Fund: $8,000 monetary, $579.25 non-monetary; Jeanne Kaplan: $1,000

Overall total: $45,279 monetary, $21,406 non-monetary

Landri Taylor

Total monetary: $37,946

Total non-monetary: none

Notable donors: John Arnold: $7,900

Patrick Hamill: $7,500

Katherine Bradley: $2,500

Democrats for Education Reform: $2,000

Stand for Children: $1,800

Cathey Finlon: $1,000

Albert Ratner, co-chair emeritus of Forest City Enterprises: $1,000

Overall total: $110,051 monetary

For in-depth interviews with all nine candidates, check out "Drawing the Line."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com


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