The two candidates vying to replace Tarvald Smith on the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board are roughly even in fundraising as they head to Saturday’s election, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
The two candidates, both Democrats, report raising about $16,000 each in the race to represent District 4, but their sources of support are quite different.
Dawn Collins, 39, is relying on money from traditional public education advocates, including teachers’ unions and local leaders such as state Rep. Pat Smith, with ties to the school system. Collins also is getting money from noneducation unions and figures active in Democratic Party politics; Collins is chairwoman of the parish Democratic Party’s executive committee.
By contrast, Robert Maxie Sr., 37, is getting support from business and community leaders who favor greater privatization and expansion of charter schools, which are public schools run by private organizations.
In some ways, it’s a replay of the 2014 election, which pitted those same groups against each other, though business interests vastly outspent their opponents and achieved a 6-3 supermajority on the board.
Maxie, a Navy veteran who now works as a substance abuse counselor, ran an unsuccessful campaign that year to oust Smith.
A key player in that election, Cajun Industries founder Lane Grigsby, is clearly favoring Maxie, as he did in 2014. Grigsby and affiliated donors and groups have given Maxie $10,000 so far, about 60 percent of his war chest.
Grigsby also has made a donation to the Collins campaign, although a much smaller amount, $500.
Collins, who has a private political consulting business, said she talked with Grigsby for about an hour in his office before accepting the donation. She said it was cordial, although the two disagreed about many things related to public education: “We did actually agree on comprehensive sex education,” she said with a laugh.
“I will talk with everybody, but I will make clear what my position is,” Collins said.
Maxie, however, doesn’t see it that way. He noted that Collins’ supporters have continually attacked him as in the pocket of big business.
“She said she’s not taking money from business, and here she is taking money from business,” Maxie said. “It’s just hypocritical given the way they have painted me.”
Unions have supplied about half of Collins’ war chest, teachers’ unions about a quarter.
One current School Board member, Vereta Lee, and one former board member, W.T. Winfield, donated to the Collins campaign $150 and $750, respectively. Both sit with her on the Democratic Party executive committee.
Other notable donors to Collins include former U.S. Rep. Cleo Fields and former state Rep. Joe Delpit, both of whom gave her $500 apiece.
As in 2014, Maxie is getting financial support the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s FuturePAC, $5,000 worth. On Tuesday night, Maxie received a $1,000 check from Stand for Children, a pro-choice parents group. Members of the group are also helping him knock on doors.
As of Feb. 14, Collins reported having nearly $5,000 cash on hand, while Maxie had just $366. The two candidates, however, continue to report large contributions as they come in, three contributions totaling $4,000 for Collins, and FuturePAC’s $5,000 donation to Maxie.
District 4, which has more than 24,000 registered voters, has Florida Boulevard as its south boundary and reaches north to Greenwell Street and the Comite River. It’s bounded by Howell Park in the west and Flannery Road in the east.
The District 4 School Board seat came open after Smith was elected to serve on Baton Rouge City Court.
This story was updated Wednesday, March 2, 2016, to reflect money given to Maxie by Stand for Children Tuesday night.