Education

Who is Supporting Your School Board Candidate?

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While the Independent Record was covering the entirely illogical complaints of spouses of School Board candidates, I decided to take a look at the campaign finance reports of the six candidates, and found that the three running because of opposition to the health curriculum (Rush, Renshaw, and Sticht) have received most of their support from an incredibly small pool of donors and an ideologically driven organization funneling large sums into the race.

One of the narratives that opponents of the health curriculum have been asserting since the summer is the idea that they represent the majority of people in Helena, with broad support for their position. Despite these claims of representing the majority of Helenans, the three candidates running against the current School Board and against the District seem to have little popular support, while the two incumbents and Libbi Lovshin have broad support from across the community, as their C-5 reports indicate:

While these may certainly be attributed to Myrhe, Prezeau, and Lovshin being better campaigners, it’s hard to believe that Rush, Sticht, and Renshaw represent a large group of people when their donor pool is so small.

It gets more interesting, though, when Helena Youth Advocates are taken into account.  This new PAC seems designed to allow a few people in Helena to funnel large sums of money towards Rush, Renshaw, and Sticht, circumventing the $160 campaign contribution limit.

According to their campaign finance report, Helena Youth Advocates has spent $4,536 for advertising in the Independent Record (you’ve probably seen their amateurish banner ads featuring “President Barack”) and postage for mailers. Of the money raised, all but a few dollars comes from 4 large contributors, including $3,000 (in the form of a loan and donation) from one family.

A closer look at Helena Youth Advocates also leads to more questions about the organization.

  • When it filed with the state on April 1, 2011, the organization’s treasurer affirmed that the candidates it would support were “not known at this time,” despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • Sharon Nason, wife of HYA Treasurer Ron Nason, used Harris Himes’s Montana Eagle Forum to solicit candidates to run against the incumbent Board members at three weeks earlier. Himes has spent much of the past three months working to overturn the Missoula anti-discrimination ordinance with hate-filled rhetoric and much of his life in Montana as an agitator inserting himself in local questions outside his community.
  • The Helena Youth Advocates web site was created and donated by Mikal Wilkerson, wife of former School Board member Trevor Wilkerson, and another of the people currently suing the School District.
  • The HYA web site claims that the organization is a non-profit, but provides no supporting information or paperwork about the type non-profit it claims to be.

Don’t let the name fool you: Helena Youth Advocates is not the name of a large group of parents and community members; it’s an Astroturf front group for a few strident critics.

All of this highlights a truth that has long been apparent: those opposed to the current board don’t represent a “silent majority” silenced by a School Board unwilling to listen; they represent a loud minority angry that a vote didn’t go their way. They’ve sued the District, wasting precious resources; they’ve misrepresented our schools; they’ve maligned our teachers and administrators.

And they don’t speak for the majority, no matter how often they say they do.

Tomorrow: The candidates on the issues.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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