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Sunlight wants to update our reporting on NJEA funding for local school board races. In Wayne, Sparta, Ringwood and Old Bridge, the NJEA’s traditional PAC, NJEA PAC, is helping to tilt school board races in favor of union-friendly candidates with $35,100 in direct donations. Added to this is the $205,234 we know was spent by the NJEA’s Super PAC, Garden State Forward. That’s over $240,000 that parents running against the union-endorsed slates cannot hope to match. It’s an uneven playing field, just as the NJEA would wish.
WAYNE: $24,600 for the United Not Divided slate of Stacy Scher, Jacob Van Lunen and Suzanne Pudup. Wayne is the district where NJEA President Sean Spiller is a teacher, so it’s a high profile school district for the NJEA and its leadership. Unsurprisingly, the Wayne Education Association endorsed the United Not Divided slate. Scher is a current teacher and and Pudup a retired one, and are presumably NJEA members. We suppose Wayne can decide whether it wants conflicted members on its school board, but $24,600 is a lot of money for a school board race and it’s highly unlikely the other candidates have this sort of financial support.
SPARTA: $6,000 for the Advocating For All slate of Kaitlin Gagnon, Jennifer Grana, Jessica Nelson, Davina Daura, Dana Gulino and Tammy Mongon. The slate has been endorsed by the Sparta Education Association. Grana and Mongon are teachers and presumably NJEA members. One thing is for sure: Advocating For All has a slick, multi-functional website and such websites cost money, so the NJEA money is having a real impact.
RINGWOOD: $3,000 for the Expect More slate of Shane King, Dawn Savastano and Theresa Struck. While none are teachers, King’s wife is a teacher, Struck’s husband is a retired teacher and Savastano is a school administrator. The slate has its own website, which gives in an advantage over candidates who cannot afford one.
OLD BRIDGE: $1,500 for the slate of Jen D’Antuono, Marjory Jodrey and Lance Hilfman, which was endorsed by the Old Bridge Education Association. Jodrey is a former teacher and Hilfman a current one and presumably an NJEA member. Again, $1,500 can go a long way in small-budget, local elections.
This amounts to $35,100 of NJEA PAC money, which must be added to the $205,234 that the NJEA’s Super PAC, Garden State Forward, is spending. Due to inadequate disclosure, we do not know where Garden State Forward is spending the money, but we do know that, all told, the NJEA is pumping over $240,000 into New Jersey school board races. And this does not account for the efforts of NJEA “volunteers” — even from outside the district — who help get out the vote for union-endorsed candidates. Given the descriptions above, New Jersey citizens can be sure that all this money and support is backing union-friendly candidates, often with ties to the NJEA, who, if victorious, will help shape school board policies and budgets for years to come.
But New Jersey citizens should ask themselves whether it’s healthy to have a deep-pocketed, state-level special interest swoop in to dominate local elections wherever it feels the need. Parents who run for school board usually lack outside support and often self-fund their campaigns, so a few thousand dollars can make a big difference. Altogether, it makes for an uneven playing field. Just as the NJEA would wish.