School Board elections less than a year away

With all the media attention on next year’s presidential election candidates, it’s easy to forget that there will be many other positions on the ballot as well. In this post, I’ll tell you about our local School Board positions; in another post, I’ll tell you about the rest.

I focus first on the School Board because so few Collier voters voted in those elections last year. School Board member Kelly Lichter was elected with the votes of just 9 percent of registered voters, and School Board member Erika Donalds was elected with the votes of just 30 percent of registered voters. I want to do what I can to encourage more, and more informed, voters next time.

Undoubtedly, the lack of general public interest in the School Board, combined with the significant and obviously coordinated marketing and organizing done in support of these women, played a big role in the outcome. And those things cost money: Donalds spent over $82,000; Lichter spent almost $20,000.

We have seen the effect their election has had on the effectiveness and civility of Board meetings, as well as the changes they are trying to make. And with just one more like-minded member, they will gain control of the Board.

After reading this post, I hope you will be inspired to start monitoring the candidates for School Board NOW, and that you will actively begin raising the awareness of your friends and colleagues, so that there will be many more, and more informed, voters in next year’s School Board elections.

Two School Board positions on the 2016 ballot

Two of the five School Board positions will be on the ballot next year: District 2, currently held by Kathleen Curatolo, and District 4, currently held by Julie Sprague. Neither incumbent has yet begun a reelection campaign; the official qualifying period is not until next June.

At this writing, two challengers have created campaign accounts and reported campaign contributions to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections: John M. Brunner for District 2, and Lee Dixon for District 4.

Both are members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC), on which Lichter serves as Secretary, and which reportedly will vote to censure Curatolo as “a public expression of severe disapproval of her votes to undermine the party platform” at its October meeting. (See WINK-TV news report from the CCREC’s September meeting and the censure resolution posted by The Collier Conservative, a local group “connecting Collier County residents to news and information that impacts their freedom and liberty.”)

John M. Brunner – Candidate for District 2

John Brunner

Brunner’s Candidate’s Statement is here; his campaign website is here. His first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

No current employment is reported on his campaign bio. Through June 2015, he was a second-grade teacher at Mason Classical Academy, the conservative Hillsdale College charter school started by Donalds and Lichter and currently led by Lichter. Donalds’ husband Byron is Vice President of the MCA Board and a Republican Party candidate for Florida State House District 80.

His campaign finance reports to-date show $11,145 in monetary contributions, $35 in in-kind contributions, and $988 in campaign expenditures.

Ten people have donated the maximum $1,000 each to Brunner’s campaign. Those listing Naples addresses are Wilson Bradley, Nancy Lauridsen, Irma Leonard, Thomas Leonard, Ellis Naegle, Robert Naegele, Linda Schoenhals, and Jay Stonesifer. Those listing out-of-district addresses are John C. Hunter, Bonita Springs, and Marvin Schoenhals, Wilmington, DE.

$100 donations reported to-date from Naples are from Bria Bare, Ellen Elmore, Joan Jaindl, Tim Kelly, Charles Marshall (2) and Matt Mathias. Out-of-district $100 donors are Kathleen LeSage, Chittenden, FL; Becky MacGregor, Sandia Park, NM; and Cari Turner, Valparaiso, IN.

Brunner’s campaign expenditures to-date include payments totaling $831 to Transcend Creative, a St Petersburg, FL, graphic design and marketing firm that showcases several Libertarian Party candidates and organizations among its clients. In-kind contributions show $25 from Charles Marshall for “website.”

On the Current Topics page of his website, Brunner notes his opposition to Collier Schools’ participation in the Blue Zones Project, as well as to the District’s Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) initiative. On Issues, he lists Parental Involvement and Choice, Fiscal Responsibility, and Returning to Local Control.

Lee Dixon – Candidate for District 4

Lee Dixon

Dixon has not posted a Candidate’s Statement on his Supervisor of Elections Candidate Report web page; his campaign website is here. Like Brunner, Dixon’s first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

Also like Brunner, no current employment is reported on Dixon’s campaign bio, which only says he began his career as a golf course Superintendent in 1992 and moved to Naples in 1995.

Dixon’s campaign finance reports to-date show $846 in monetary contributions, no in-kind contributions, and $37 in campaign expenditures.

Dixon’s largest donors to-date are from out-of-district: Marc Weintraub, New York, NY – $250 and Craig Luckman, Bonita Springs – $150.

Donors from Naples include Deirdre Clemons (see “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children – English Language Arts” and “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children- US History”); Jared Jones (Libertarian Party-endorsed, unsuccessful 2014 candidate for the Collier Soil and Water Conservation District); and Nicholas Lichter (husband of School Board member Kelly Lichter).

On the Issues page of his website, Dixon leads with his love of America and “her First Principles of Limited Government; the Rule of Law; Unalienable Rights; and Equality.” He opposes Common Core and the District’s “obsession with technology, testing and test prepping.”

While not noted on his website, Dixon is (according to NBC–2) Vice President of Parents ROCK, the parents’ group formed by School Board member Erika Donalds. Like Brunner, Donalds and Lichter, Dixon opposes Collier Schools’ participation in the community Blue Zones Project.

Call to action

There is clearly an organized, well-funded effort in place to take control of the School Board in the upcoming election.

In what are required by law to be nonpartisan elections, the two candidates’ ties to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (partisan political organization; upcoming censure vote against Board Chair Curatolo; Secretary Kelly Lichter), as well as the out-of-town contributions to candidate Brunner, are extremely troubling.

Equally concerning is that no other candidates have yet come forward to offer Collier voters an alternative to these two candidates’ right-wing, anti-Common Core, anti-testing, anti-Blue Zones agenda. But there is still time.

The School Board primary elections will take place next August. If a candidate for office is unchallenged, or receives more than 50% of votes cast for the position, the election will be decided then. That’s what happened last year when Kelly Lichter was elected with 51% of the votes cast, though that was just 9% of Collier’s registered voters. If no candidate receives 50% of the votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters will go on to a runoff election on November 8, 2016, as happened with the election of Erika Donalds.

Here’s what you can and should do right now:

  • Begin monitoring the candidates’ activities. Sign up for emails on their websites. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where you can also follow Parents ROCK, Great Schools, Great Minds and Sparker’s Soapbox. Create Google Alerts to monitor the web for new content about them. Follow the money: campaign finance reports are posted monthly.
  • Make sure your voter registration is up-to-date. Confirm with the Supervisor of Elections that your address is current. Importantly, if there is any chance your signature has changed since you last submitted your voter registration, update it now and avoid a possible election day or mail-ballot hassle. Call the Collier Supervisor of Elections office at 239–252-VOTE to learn how.
  • Request a mail ballot. Request a mail ballot from the Supervisor of Elections Office for either all elections through the next two General Elections (what I recommend) or for specific elections only. You can do this online, by mail or in person.

Finally, continue reading my Sparker’s Soapbox posts, and share them with your friends. Let them know that there is a great deal at stake in the 2016 School Board elections. It’s not too soon to start paying attention.

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