IOWA CITY – Iowa City school board candidates have raised more than five times the cash for this election than at the same point in the last election.
That large increase occurred even though there were more candidates in the 2011 race than this year.
One reason may be greater interest in school issues following debates over several high-profile, and controversial, matters in recent months, including the passage of a diversity policy, voter approval to borrow $100 million for construction projects and a $260 million long-term facilities plan that calls for the closure of an elementary school.
“That’s the kind of thing that gets people energized in a way that they normally are not for a school board election,” said University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle.
The nine Iowa City school board candidates running for three seats in the Sept. 10 election reported $33,884 in cash contributions in reports due Thursday with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.
With the election still a few days away, more money can still come in.
At the first filing period in 2011, 10 candidates reported $6,430 in cash contributions. Five of the candidates did not even file reports, which are required only if more than $750 is raised or spent.
When including later contributions, loans, in-kind donations and cash candidates had on hand before the filing period, the 2011 campaign saw $9,739 in donations.
This year so far, that number is nearly four times higher at $37,036.
Candidate Phil Hemingway called that a “sad commentary” on an election for a volunteer board. He is not accepting donations, just as he did not as a candidate two years ago, when he missed being elected by 89 votes.
“It’s a key issue with me, and it’s a reason I’m self-funded,” he said. “I don’t want to be obligated to anyone to volunteer.”
He’s alone in not seeking donations, however, with the other eight candidates bringing in more than $1,000 each. The highest total was $8,576 from Brian Kirschling.
Kirschling said he’s surprised and flattered to top the list, and a bit embarrassed by the total of all of the candidates. He also said he respects someone like Hemingway who runs a campaign with no contributions.
If the amount contributed is an indication of interest in school issues, Kirschling said that is better than the voter apathy often seen in school board elections. In 2011, 6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Iowa City school board election.
“I think in many respects people understand how important schools are to our district and the entire community, and I think they hopefully realize they have an opportunity to not only vote, but also move our district forward,” he said.
Board member Karla Cook said she’s worried low voter turnout will make the cost per vote “outrageous.”
She is seeking a full four-year term after being elected to finish a vacancy in 2011. In the last election, she brought in $890 total. This year so far, she has received$5,980.
She noted that she was in a two-person race in 2011, and eight more candidates sought four seats. This year, it’s nine candidates seeking any of three seats.
Between the number of candidates and issues like the diversity policy and facilities plan fueling interest, Cook believes candidates are feeling the need to spend more this year. She put up about 100 yard signs in 2011, she said. This year, it’s 250 signs, and she’s done two mailings.
“I just really think that (the candidates) think there is more concern out there and they might be outdone by the big signs or mailings,” she said
Cash contributions received by candidates in current filing period:
Sara Barron: $1,088
Karla Cook: $5,980
Tuyet Dorau: $4,845
Gregg Geerdes: $3,550 (all from himself; says he is not taking donations)
Phil Hemingway: Not accepting donations.
Brian Kirschling: $8,576
Jason Lewis: $2,660
Chris Lynch: $5,405
Jim Tate: $1,780