Black money and unprecedented amounts of campaign money fuel Northeast Ohio Culture War school board races

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two years ago, Jillian DeLong raised $ 4,101 for her Beachwood City School District School Board campaign.

This year, she raised 50% more, $ 6,245, and that does not include donations she received after October 19, which will appear in a subsequent campaign fundraising report.

Across Ohio, once-asleep school board races escalated, with more money – including black money – and scuffles. The latest conservative culture wars, over mask and vaccine policies and critical race theory, are at the center of the challengers’ campaigns.

While many conservatives challenge the incumbents, progressive political newcomers are also racing. They adopt programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion and are interested in public health policies that protect students and school employees.

“This year the school board races are hot,” said Catherine Turner, executive director of the good government group Common Cause Ohio. “It’s not business as usual. School board races are usually a dormant business, campaigning from neighbor to neighbor. A neighbor who says ‘Hey, I love this person.’ Sometimes people hand out flyers. Usually these are races that don’t get a lot of attention.

But many of the debates in school board races are the same, from district to district, across the country. Blame black money and the influence of national organizations for the nationalization of school board races.

A PAC called Save Chagrin Schools raised $ 32,950 for school board races.

He backs candidates for the education council of the exempted village of Chagrin Falls, Mandy Hilton, Megan McClain and writing candidate Erin Gooch, who believe masks should be optional and oppose a “division agenda “In the school district, this is how many conservatives criticize racial theory and diversity, equity and inclusion programs because they believe they are blaming white people.

Of the $ 32,950 raised for Save Chagrin Schools, Timothy and Heather Ryan donated $ 20,000. The couple, who are not related to the U.S. Democratic congressman from Ohio, have previously donated for a 4,300 square foot center for students and teachers in Grades 7 to 12 to work on the technology and creativity, called Innovation Center.

Mike Gibbons, the crowded US Senate primary candidate to replace incumbent Senator Rob Portman, also contributed $ 1,000 to Save Chagrin Schools.

Some conservative candidates are teaming up and pooling their resources to gain a competitive advantage.

Weiss, Caputo, Charms Mason for Beachwood is a combined fundraising campaign committee for Dr. Miriam F. Weiss, Kareen Caputo and Valerie Charms Mason, all of whom are running for the Beachwood City School District School Board.

The campaign committee received a check for $ 250 from Bruce Mandel, a prominent lawyer and father of Josh Mandel, former state treasurer and Republican candidate for the US Senate.

With many conservative candidates for the Cuyahoga County School Board, the trio are endorsed by Ohio Value Voters, formerly Northeast Ohio Value Voters, a 501 (c) (4), a nonprofit advocacy and protection organization. social which usually does not have to disclose donors. . It is headed by John and Diane Stover and other religious conservatives from Northeast Ohio. Ohio Value Voters candidates describe themselves as dedicated to protecting the faith, family, liberty and sanctity of life, favoring candidates opposed to Critical Race Theory, Comprehensive Sex Education, and social and emotional learning.

Some candidates backed by Ohio Value Voters have complained that their opponents are backed by progressive Protect Ohio’s Future, which says it is trying to fight “radical law” by supporting diversity, equity, inclusion programs. and justice, comprehensive sex education, social and emotional learning and masking in school and vaccines. It mainly focuses on racing in Northeast Ohio.

But like with Ohio Value Voters, it’s also unclear who donates to Protect Ohio’s Future. It is not registered as a political action committee with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Its website only states that its website is paid for by Protect Ohio’s Future and is not authorized by any candidate.

“One of the things we should always be aware of is that black money can often fuel the perception of a problem,” said Turcer of Common Cause Ohio. “One of the things we do know is that there are these conservative groups mobilizing these attacks on critical race theory.”

For example, the Heritage Foundation is one of the main voices against critical race theory. However, donations to the think tank are not public. Still, it plays a vital role in framing how some people see the problem.

The Matriots PAC, which contributes to the Ohio candidates, gave $ 500 each to Wendy Leatherberry and Kim Allamby, who support diversity and public health measures during the pandemic.

State law says that a member of a school board can earn up to $ 125 per meeting and a maximum of $ 5,000 per year, said Rick Lewis, CEO of the Ohio School Boards Association.

This means that in some cases, candidates collect more than they would earn on the board if they won.

Candidates may be surprised at how little the issues they campaigned on are brought before the school board, said Nancy Binzel Brown, a board member for the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District, who is not not running for reelection this year but observed how bad the races have become.

She believes that one of the biggest issues facing her district is how board members spend the money raised through voter-approved bonds. Another important issue is the replacement or renovation of old buildings in the neighborhood. She said a board member had been working on a plan for older buildings for two years.

“We had someone speak to us (last week) about opposing vaccine warrants,” she said. “It didn’t even come. We never even discussed whether we should be forcing this on teachers or students. It just blew my mind.

About Leslie Schwartz

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