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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County school board races generating big campaign cash, with a seat in Mead the most expensive school board contest in the state

Jaime Stacy, left, and Jennifer Killman are running for Mead School Board District 3 in the November 2023 election.  (Courtesy photos)

Heading into election day this week, school board candidates in Spokane’s surrounding suburbs are raising money not often seen for a local volunteer board.

Though they were once sleepy contests where longtime incumbents often sailed to re-election without a challenger, they have become some of the most hotly contested races. In Eastern Washington, such attention is not focused on Spokane itself but its surrounding suburbs of Mead and Central Valley.

The race between Mead School Board candidates Jaime Stacy and Jennifer Killman has amassed more money than any other school board contest in Washington state this year.

Killman leads campaign fundraising in the race with $26,170.35, compared to Stacy’s $24,583.69. An additional $17,903.79 has been spent by outside groups on behalf of the candidates. Per Washington law, these outside groups cannot coordinate this spending with the campaigns, but the vast majority of the outside spending has been on Stacy’s behalf.

Including outside spending, there are only a few school board contests in the state that rival the spending going on in this one Mead race. A race for the University Place School District near Seattle has raised the second-most amount of money: $61,786.41 between all candidates and outside spending. The race between Stacy and Killman has garnered a combined total of $68,657.83, as of Friday.

The tens of thousands of dollars in each campaign’s coffers underscore the ideological – if not partisan – tint of the campaign. Stacy is a self-identified progressive focused on diversity and inclusion, while Killman is endorsed by the Spokane GOP and skeptical of the way race is addressed in public schools.

Cornell Clayton, Washington State University political science professor and director of the Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service, said the large campaign war chests in Mead and elsewhere in Eastern Washington are an example of how the previously “sleepy endeavor” of a local school board election has become the “current battleground for the culture wars.”

“Among conservatives, there’s a perception that progressives have taken over the education establishments, from universities on down to public schools. And that concern has caused a reaction from the other ideological side, too. Whenever one side mobilizes to take over a set of institutions, the other side will mobilize to defend those institutions,” he said. “I think all those things have come together to make this very volatile political ground. And so I’m not at all surprised to see lots of money being poured into these elections.”

A lot of the outside spending in the race between Stacy and Killman has come from advocacy groups hoping to stave off right-wing control of school boards like the one in Mead.

Stand for Children Washington PAC has spent $11,990.20 of outside money for a paid phone banking operation on Stacy’s behalf.

Policy positions on the Political Action Committee’s website point to student academic success, “restorative educational justice” in the juvenile legal system and school environments that “cultivate belonging and affirm students’ intersecting identities.” In their endorsement of Stacy, the group cites “powerful interests” that “divide and distract” school districts who should “remain non-partisan.”

Stacy welcomed the money donated to her campaign, calling it a “good sign the community has faith in her.”

Killman said in an interview that the large amount of outside spending is “not surprising” for an open race in Mead.

“You have Jaime leaning in a more progressive way. And I’m leaning in a more conservative way. And so there’s outside people that want to support us in those ways,” Killman said.

Stacy expressed skepticism for the outside spending done on her behalf and denounced a negative mailer put out by a labor group against Killman funded by the Citizens for Liberty and Labor PAC to the tune of $2,701.56.

“We are not doing that. If you receive that postcard, throw it away,” Stacy said in a recent Facebook Live, while also mentioning a negative mailer against her from the Washington State Republican Party.

Killman said the mailers were “upsetting.”

Her funding has largely come from individuals and businesses in the Spokane area.

Notable donors include Spokane developer Harley Douglass, developer Corey Condron, Swinging Doors restaurant owner Bob Materne, Republican state Sen. Mike Padden and the Spokane County GOP.

Other school board fundraising

The other Mead races have also generated large amount of spending, although less than seen in the Killman/Stacy contest as of Friday.

Longtime Mead incumbent Denny Denholm has raised $17,256.53; opponent Alan Nolan has raised $24,413.61. Incumbent Michael Cannon has raised $24,413.61, and his opponent, David Knaggs, has not raised more than the $7,000 minimum reporting threshold.

The only past Mead School Board race to generate this much cash is a 2021 contest where BrieAnne Gray raised over $43,000 and defeated incumbent Carmon Green, who raised $19,044.24.

High spending in the Central Valley School District does not have that precedent – no candidate before this year had raised enough money to reach the $7,000 reporting threshold.

As of Friday, Central Valley candidate Keith Clark has raised $16,940.83 and opponent Anniece Barker has raised $13,491.05. Candidate Stephanie Jerdon has raised $14,986.60 and incumbent Debra Long has raised $13,801.60. Candidate Cindy McMullen has raised $12,644.41 and opponent Jeff Brooks has raised $1,764.27.

Campaign fundraising in both Mead and Central Valley is collectively higher than that seen in the Spokane Public Schools race this year.

Incumbent board president Mike Wiser has raised $5,084.38 and his challenger, Erica Lalka, has raised $15,550.01.