APS school board race brings in cash and controversy

AURORA | The race to fill four open seats on the Aurora Public School Board has so far brought in almost $50,000 worth of political donations — and a campaign violation controversy — including $21,640.28 in total to the four union backed candidates running as a unified slate.

Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Kevin Cox, Debbie Gerkin and Marques Ivey are running as a slate that’s backed by the Aurora Education Association, the teacher’s union in Aurora. The four have received large contributions, $16,293.20, from the Public Education Committee, the political action arm of the Colorado Education Association.

Out of the four union backed candidates, Gerken has the most in donations, bringing in $7,755.43, with $4,073.30 coming from the CEA. Armstrong-Romero has the second most money out of the four union candidates with $6,365.55 ($4,073.30 from CEA contributions).

The four are running as essentially a single ticket, sharing space on yard signs and campaign expenses.

“We’re running as a slate because we all come from diverse backgrounds and bring our own expertise to form a well-rounded board and the best choices to fill the four seats being vacated this year,” Cox said.

Those shared expenses caused what could be considered a campaign violation due to how those shared expenses were reported to the Secretary of State.

On Armstrong-Romero’s filings with the Secretary of State, she has three contributions of $160.50 listed from the campaign committee’s for Cox, Ivey and Gerken and another for $7.25 from Ivey’s campaign. The $160.50 payments were reimbursement to Armstrong-Romero for an ad for she paid for inside The Aurora Sentinel for all the candidates. The $7.25 was for a Facebook ad.

State campaign finance law prevents candidate committees from donating to one another. If campaign committees share expenses, the committees need to repay one another within 30 days for it not to count as a loan.

Tim Dickson, who is running the campaigns for the four candidates, said the filing was an innocent mistake by Armstrong-Romero and they would be filing a correction with the Secretary of State’s office this week.

While the union candidates have brought in a huge chunk of the money raised, Miguel In Suk Lovato has brought in the most of any candidate. Lovato has pulled in $14,181 so far in donations. While the vast majority of Lovato’s campaign contributions have come from donors giving under $250, he’s also received $8,000 from six donors, including Daniel Ritchie, a former communications CEO and Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Denver, Steve Halstedt, managing director and co-founder Centennial Ventures and Patrick Hamill, the CEO of Oakwood Homes, which has a substantial investment in the coming development in east Aurora.

A call to the offices of Oakwood Homes requesting a comment from Hamill wasn’t returned by press time.

Ritchie and Hamill also gave $2,500 and $2,000 respectively to Gail Pough’s campaign, which was the second best funded in the most recent reports filed. Pough brought in $10,181.32, with the only other big ticket donation above $200 coming from Democrats for Education Reform, which gave $750.

Democrats for Education Reform has donated to five of the candidates (Lovato, Gerkin, Armstrong-Romero, Pough and Steed) a total of $1,450. Jennifer Walmer, DFER’s state director in Colorado, said the group interviewed seven of the candidates and decided to donate to five of them. While DFER promotes the option of charter schools, Walmer said the group is focused on making sure APS ‘s board is a better reflection of the community it serves.

“I would say fundamentally we are an organization that is first and foremost dedicated to the idea that every child deserves access to a high quality public education. Our position on charter schools tends to get a lot of the focus but that’s not our single focus.” Walmer said. “We had a concern when we looked at the board currently that it’s a big district and there were a lot of regional absences on the board.” Lovato also donated to several of his fellow candidates on the APS slate. He gave $100 to Pough and to Steed.

Donation totals since Oct. 17

Armstrong-Romero: $6,365.55

Barber: $150.00

Cox: $2,554.00

Gerkin: $7,755.43

Ivey: $4,965.30

Lovato: $14,181.00

Pough: $10,181.32

Steed: $1,355.00