Much of the more than $666,000 raised for East Baton Rouge Parish School Board elections this year is being spent on three races that voters will settle Saturday.
Spending is on track to surpass the last School Board election in 2010. Just like then, this election pits candidates backed by business leaders seeking to change public education against candidates, most of them incumbents, opposing that effort.
The latest campaign finance reports, turned in by Nov. 26, cover fundraising and spending through Nov. 16. This latest report is the last one required before Saturday’s election. Some candidates have continued to file special reports, required when candidates receive large donations, in the case of the School Board, of $1,000 or more, or spend $200 or more.
Six incumbents have already cruised to re-election, producing a 3-3 split between board members supported and board members opposed by local business interests.
Districts 1, 5 and 8, which all had multiple candidates qualify, were unable to produce a winner Nov. 4. Business leaders are likely to get at least a 5-4 split based on the candidates still left on the ballot. That majority could grow to a supermajority of 6-3, depending upon the outcome in District 5.
Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby continues to lead in contributions, with $359,700, or about 54 percent, of all giving this election. That’s personal giving by Grigbsy as well as checks written by his family members, top executives at his company, Cajun Industries, as well as money contributed by those employed at the education political action committee he founded earlier this year, Better Schools for Better Futures.
In addition to contributions to candidates, Better Schools has spent more than $166,000 so far to promote the candidates it has endorsed, particularly the three who are on Saturday’s ballot: Mark Bellue, District 1; Evelyn Ware-Jackson, District 5; and Chris Bailey, District 8.
The next-biggest donor is billionaire and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has reported giving $102,500 so far, almost all of that to another new PAC called Improve Our Schools. It has reported $12,135 in direct spending on the elections.
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s political arm, FuturePAC, is next in overall spending, contributing $47,500 to a total of eight candidates so far. FuturePAC also is spending directly on the elections, though it has yet to break out how much.
The pro-charter school, pro-Common Core parent group Stand for Children is next, contributing $12,500 to five candidates. Like FuturePAC, Stand for Children is paying for its own political advertising but has yet to detail that spending.
These groups and their supporters account for at least 80 percent of campaign contributions so far this election.
The three candidates in Saturday’s election who are backed by business leaders have raised more than $154,000, according to the most recent reports. That’s almost double all their opponents combined.
The biggest gap is in the District 5 race, where Evelyn Ware-Jackson is seeking a second term against Jerry Arbour, who is seeking a third term. Ware-Jackson has raised more than $70,000 and she still had nearly $48,000 left over at last count. Arbour, by contrast, has raised less than $11,000 and had nearly $7,000 left in his bank account.
The race with the most spending is District 8, where the candidates have spent $59,000, about $20,000 more than the reported spending on the District 5 race. Bailey still had more than $18,000 left to spend, compared with $1,000 that incumbent Connie Bernard reported.
In the District 1 race, Bellue has at least $6,300 for the final campaign push. His opponent, Jennifer Andrews, reported having only $2 left.
While heavily outspent, the opponents of these business leaders have had a few big donors, with teacher unions leading the way.
The Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ political action committee gave a total of $8,000 to seven School Board candidates. The only business-backed candidate it contributed to was District 7 incumbent Barbara Freiberg, who received $500 and is also supported by FuturePAC and Grigsby.
The PAC of its rival union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, has reported giving a total of $3,750 to four candidates.
Baton Rouge businessman Carranza “C.J.” Guidry gave $7,000 to five candidates opposed by business interests. Rover Janitorial Services, where Guidry is an officer, gave District 5 challenger Patty Merrick, who came in fourth on Nov. 4, a total of $4,200 in cash and in-kind contributions. Guidry in 2011 came within a vote of winning a marketing contract with the school system.