Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigbsy is once again pouring money into East Baton Rouge Parish School Board elections, far outpacing all other donors, according to campaign finance reports released last week.
The total spending so far this election cycle by Grigsby, his family members and top executives at his company, Cajun Industries, is just shy of $160,000, which is about 62 percent of the quarter-million dollars reported so far by the candidates and a handful of outside groups.
About $100,000 has gone to a new political action committee that Grigsby formed in August called Better Schools for Better Futures. Another $15,000 went to the pro-charter school parent group Stand for Children, which recruited candidates. The remaining $45,000 are contributions to candidates themselves.
All 17 candidates listed on the Nov. 4 ballot for East Baton Rouge Parish School Board have filed reports covering activity through Sept. 25, though some reports cover a few more days. The reports were posted online by the Louisiana Board of Ethics beginning Oct. 6. Another report covering activity through mid-to late October will be released later this month.
Grigsby has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years backing candidates who support business-backed reforms of public education. He helped fund the 2011 purge of opponents to Gov. Bobby Jindal on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The new BESE members broke a deadlock that allowed John White to ascend to the position of state superintendent of education. The 2011 elections also set the stage for Jindal’s 2012 education legislative package, which expanded publicly funded vouchers for private schools statewide and weakened teacher tenure laws.
Grigsby has not neglected public education in the Capital City.
In 2010, he spent almost $130,000 to unseat incumbent School Board members. That spending was more than matched by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. The chamber’s political arm, FuturePAC, reported more than $170,000 in candidate contributions and direct spending on School Board races.
Despite withering attacks, three of the five targeted board members managed to win re-election. The result was a board divided 6-5 on an array of issues.
FuturePAC did not report spending any money so far this election cycle, but since the reporting deadline, the PAC announced they planned to give at least $25,000 to candidates.
Better Schools for Better Futures has given $20,000 in local School Board races, $2,500 per candidate. That includes contributions to Jill Dyason, District 6, and David Tatman, District 9, both of whom won re-election without opposition. Better Schools has spent another $40,453 for advertising through Clay Young Enterprises of Baton Rouge. It still had $34,607 left to spend, according to its report.
Here are the six candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot to whom Grigsby’s group has contributed money: Mark Bellue, District 1; Daniel Banguel, District 2; Robert Maxie Sr., District 4; Evelyn Ware-Jackson, District 5; Barbara Freiberg, District 7; and Chris Bailey, District 8.
FuturePAC endorsed only four candidates: Bellue, Ware-Jackson, Freiberg and Bailey. Those four have raised the most money so far, ranging from $14,400 for Bellue to $22,816 for Bailey. Three of their opponents, Jennifer Andrews in District 1 and Patty Merrick in District 5, and Charles O’Brien in District 8, have reported no fundraising. Connie Bernard, who is seeking a second term in District 8, reported raising $9,632, the fifth most money raised thus far.
Banguel and Maxie, who were passed over by FuturePAC, report little money, except the $2,500 each from Better Schools for Better Futures.
Freiberg came into the campaign flush. Consequently, she has the biggest war chest, $27,043, left for the homestretch. Her opponent, newcomer Anthony Nelson, had barely $500 left in his account, according to his report.
Better Schools for Better Futures is trying to set itself apart from Grigsby’s more negative 2010 effort. It professes to promote issues, not attack candidates. The group is running ads on television, radio and in print to communicate its agenda.
Better Schools lists five issues, or goals, on its website that it is pursuing. Those goals include expanding school choice and giving principals more autonomy but also calls for hiring a “strong new superintendent,” sharing resources with the state-run Recovery School District and hiring an independent auditor to find money for expanded school choice and early childhood education.
While Grigsby is dominating campaign spending, he is not the only one signing checks.
Bailey and Bellue, who both work for insurance companies, have received contributions from individuals and companies in that industry.
Bernard has received $2,500 from Charter Schools USA, a for-profit charter school management organization based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It operates three schools in the Baton Rouge metro area. Bernard was critical a year ago of where the group located one of its new Baton Rouge schools, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy, but she now says she has no problem with the way the school is operating.
In 2010, Charter Schools USA did not give to Bernard but gave a total of $250 each to three other School Board candidates, including Freiberg.
Also notable this election are those not contributing. In past School Board elections, companies and professionals doing business with the school system were regular contributors, but few are stepping forward this time.
For instance, Aramark, the Philadelphia-based company that handles custodial and maintenance work for the school system, has not reported a contribution.
Curt Soderberg, an architect with CSRS-Tillage Construction, which oversees most construction work at the school district, has reported only one contribution: paying $289 for a fundraising luncheon at Mansurs for Bernard.
Outside politicians are weighing in.
State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and a candidate for U.S. Congress, has given Bernard $500. State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, has given Freiberg $250. Carter has carried Jindal’s education legislation in the House and also sponsored the c hamber-developed, but unsuccessful, legislation to shift most power in the school system to principals.
Finally, David Tatman, despite winning re-election without a fight, is not sitting this election out. He has given $1,000 each to Bellue, Freiberg and Ware-Jackson.