WENATCHEE — The six candidates for the three Wenatchee School Board races on the Nov. 2 ballot have raised more than $100,000, making it one of the most expensive school board races in the state.
The candidates say COVID-19 and interest in school curriculum are part of the reason for increased donations.
According to data from the state Public Disclosure Commission, as of Oct. 22 the candidates so far have raised $107,209.49 between campaigns for the August primary and November general election. This ranks fifth in Washington, with only school district races in Seattle, Bellevue, Spokane and Gig Harbor raising more than Wenatchee.
Every Wenatchee School Board candidate in this year’s election has raised more than any of the five candidates in the 2017 election. Two of the three seats in the 2017 election are up for grabs again in 2021. According to the PDC, the most any candidate raised four years ago was $6,200.
By comparison, the five candidates for the Wenatchee City Council this year have all declared as mini filers. Mini filers are exempt from reporting their expenditures and donations as long as contributions from a single donor do not exceed $500 and their expenditures do not exceed their filing fee plus $5,000.
School board member Michelle Sandberg, who’s running for reelection this year, was one of two mini filers in the 2017 school board campaign.
This time around, her campaign has raised a total of $26,456.89. Of that, $6,000 comes from two $3,000 loans Sandberg has given her campaign.
“When national political forces target local school boards, the (already high) cost of running for local office becomes even more expensive,” Sandberg wrote in an email to The Wenatchee World.
Sandberg said the high stakes this year have made the races tightly contested.
“Voters this year will decide whether our board will be focused on improving education for all children, or on national conservative political issues. Depending on who wins in November, our district will either continue the commitment to excellence and equity for every student or will become a culture wars battleground,” Sandberg wrote. “With the future of our district and our children’s education on the line, my campaign is spending what we need to inform the community of our positions.”
Katherine Thomas, Sandberg’s opponent on the November ballot, said the pandemic made parents more interested and aware of what children are learning.
“I think there’s a lot of local interest because our kids were kept out of school for so long,” she said.
Thomas has raised $18,925, $5,000 of which comes from a loan she gave her campaign. She said she’s learned during her campaign that doorbelling is the most effective campaign strategy to get her message out.
“That doesn’t require any money, maybe a little bit of money for materials to pass out. But flyers are probably the cheapest thing you can get in a campaign,” Thomas said. “It’s really boots on the ground, it’s people walking their neighborhoods and knocking on doors.”
Combined, the six candidates have spent at least $30,540 on flyers, signs, posters, postcards and other printed materials. This figure does not include radio ads, commercials, billboards and other digital forms of advertising.
“I think first and foremost, having a presence and name recognition in the community is very important,” said Matt Van Bogart, who is challenging incumbent María Iñiguez for Position 2 on the school board. “What I did, and a couple of other candidates that share similar views, we spent tons of time at meet and greets at every single corner of this city.”
As of Friday morning, Van Bogart had raised $9,625 for his campaign. He said there are other ways, beyond money, to be an effective campaigner.
“My approach has been to focus on some core areas and some core investments to get my word out,” Van Bogart said. “I think we were pretty effective at getting some of our key messages out without spending needless amounts of money.”
So far, Iñiguez raised $28,121 for her campaign. Originally appointed to the position in 2020, this is Iñiguez’s first campaign for school board.
“People seem to be more politically engaged now in national, state, and local elections. When constituents are interested in an election outcome, they are often willing to contribute financially and to volunteer,” Iñiguez wrote in an email to The World. “It is exciting to have more parents tuned in to what is happening in our schools.”
Iñiguez said over the past two weeks, her campaign has visited more than 1,500 houses, which has allowed her to get her message out.
“I have been an active community member and volunteer in Wenatchee since moving here 15 years ago. This has allowed me to meet and work with a number of groups and organizations before becoming a candidate,” Iñiguez said. “My volunteer work ranges from organizations involved in education and the arts to social services and healthcare.”
Miranda Skalisky, a first-time candidate running for Position 5, was among those who said the pandemic played a role in the increased interest, and money, in the races.
“I think it just had to do with a lot of what has transpired over the past year and a half with the pandemic,” Skalisky said. “And everybody is trying to find a center ground on how we’re going to move forward from all of this.”
Skalisky, who raised $8,864 in the campaign, echoed a similar sentiment to other candidates and said name recognition is essential.
“I think it’s just getting your name out there and you’re kind of promoting yourself and saying ‘you are the best for this job,’” Skalisky said. “I think we’re in a new day and age where people may not want people coming up to their door. They may prefer flyers coming in the mail.”
School board member Julie Norton, Skalisky’s opponent, has raised $15,241. Of the money Norton has raised, $4,100 is from three loans to her campaign from Norton or her husband. Additionally, $3,850 of Norton’s contributions are in-kind contributions from herself.
Norton, who was also appointed in 2020 and is on the ballot for the first time, partially attributed the increase in attention to remote learning over the past year.
“I think COVID showed us that parents want more of a say in what goes on at the district, and have been feeling cut out. And that was exacerbated potentially by COVID,” Norton said. “You have parents that are maybe feeling under represented and that they want to feel represented.”
Norton said the national and state agendas have created tension between parents and interest groups.
“You’ve got unions contributing on one end, I’m not entirely sure what the motivation on that side is,” Norton said. “I think parents were frustrated with how COVID was handled and want to make sure their voices are heard. So we’re seeing a lot more private, local parents coming through with support.”
This year’s election is set to take place Nov. 2. To read a Q&A with each candidate, go to wwrld.us/schoolboard.