Candidates seeking a seat on the Lake Oswego School Board in May have raised more than $69,100, including nearly $34,000 by one candidate alone in an uncontested race.
But it's a $10,000 contribution from the school district's classified employees union to newcomer Sara Pocklington's campaign against incumbent John Wendland that has locals talking.
"How can Sara Pocklington be looking out for taxpayers' interests without bias or influence?" wrote Rich Akerman, a former School Board member, in a letter to The Review last week.
Others have also spoken out, including Scott and Beth Quarterman of Lake Oswego.
"It is worrisome that a Salem-based labor organization is looking to influence our Lake Oswego School Board," the Quartermans wrote in a letter to The Review. "We are fortunate to live in a community with wonderful schools that have a reputation for excellence and always rank at the top of our state. Lake Oswego did not achieve this recognition by having Salem-financed School Board campaigns that result in School Board members indebted to special interests. Let's not start now."
Classified staff union president Melissa Cowan Siegel said that the critics are misled. She said the elected chapter executive board of the Lake Oswego School Employees Association (LOSEA) made the recommendation for endorsements and adhered to guidelines that have been in place for many years.
Cowan Siegel said that the local chapter went to the state-level union — the Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) — with its endorsements for individual candidates and the upcoming school bond measure. The state union then decided how much money would be donated to the campaigns, she said.
"The local chapter has nothing to do with the amount of money the state chooses to donate," Cowan Siegel said. "And no local chapter dues dollars are used for any contribution."
Wendland also sought the LOSEA's endorsement and has the endorsements of other local leaders.
"I would never ask or accept any contribution from a group that I would negotiate with or whom I would have a conflict of interest," he told The Review.
For her part, Pocklington says she hasn't made the union "any promises, except to do my best for our schools and our kids every single day."
"I am so thrilled and honored to have received the endorsement of our local school classified employees, whose faces are the first our students see every day," she said. "They are our instructional assistants, our school secretaries, our media specialists, our building technicians and our food workers. In short, these are the people that feed, care for and keep our students safe each and every day, and they are in a unique position to understand deeply what our students need to thrive."
On April 17, the OSEA published a story on its website that said it is supporting candidates the union hopes "will bring fresh voices to their respective school boards." The article noted that "Pocklington has a hard battle ahead of her, as she is taking on an incumbent with more than $19,000 in the bank."
"Even with our contribution, Sara still has significantly less dollars for her campaign than the incumbent," Ed Edwards, the OSEA's director of government relations, told The Review. "In Sara's race, OSEA's contribution has helped level the playing field."
The union also gave $500 to candidate Rob Wagner, who is running unopposed for the School Board seat being vacated by Sarah Howell. And the OSEA donated $25,000 to the campaign for the LOSD's $187 million bond measure on the May 16 ballot.
Altogether, the four candidates for seats on the Lake Oswego School Board — Wagner, Pocklington, Wendland and incumbent Liz Hartman — have raised more than $69,100 in contributions and spent over $18,700 on newspaper ads, lawn signs, mailers and other publicity.
Wagner, who is seeking election to Position 2 on the board, has raised more money than any of the other candidates. As of Monday, he had reported $33,988 in contributions and $5,726 in expenditures through his campaign committee, Friends of Rob Wagner.
Wagner told The Review that when he launched his campaign in December, he initially sent out a number of targeted emails because he thought he was going to face at least one opponent in his campaign. Instead, he found himself unopposed when Howell decided not to seek re-election.
His largest expenditure so far has been $922 to C&E Systems, which provides accounting, compliance and fundraising services for progressive candidates.
Wagner's campaign has some prominent Democratic contributors, including the Democratic Party of Oregon (an in-kind contribution of $450) Friends of Ann Lininger (a cash contribution of $1,000 in two installments), Friends of Richard Devlin ($250), Mitch Greenlick for State Legislature ($250) and state Treasurer Tobias Reed ($150).
But it was a small donation that Wagner, who is the associate vice-president for advancement at Portland Community College, said was most moving to him.
"One of the most touching gifts was from a student who contributed $10," he said, "and told me that she believed so strongly in the school district and the value I might bring to the board."
Meanwhile, Hartman — who is running unopposed for a second term in Position 4 — has spent just $75 for filing fees and voters pamphlet expenses and said she intends to keep her expenses low.
She said she is planning to spend up to $400 for an ad or two in The Review and also plans to host a couple of informational sessions at her home in early May to talk about the school bond measure.
"I'm putting my time and energy and suggesting my friends contribute toward the bond campaign," she said, "since I'm not asking them for campaign contributions."
The contested race
Pocklington and Wendland are asking for contributions, however — and their campaign coffers are filling up.
Wendland, who is seeking a third four-year term on the School Board, had received $20,620 in contributions through Monday and had reported $6,568 in expenditures. Pocklington, Nike's director of technology accounting, had received $14,530 and spent $6,494, according to campaign finance reports.
"As far as my campaign's financing, I purposefully went very low-key in raising money," said Wendland, the owner and president of Portland Bindery Inc. "I didn't want to compete or affect fundraising efforts by the (Lake Oswego Schools) Foundation or bond campaign, so I asked some friends and family that live outside the local area if they wanted to contribute to my campaign. I would rather have my local friends contributing to the important work of the Foundation and bond."
Wendland's campaign income includes a $10,000 personal loan to his political committee. He also received an in-kind contribution of $230 from Lake Oswego City Councilor John LaMotte for yard sign stakes.
Wendland's expenditures include money for a banner, fence posts for a banner, graphic design and website development.
"The donation I am most proud of is the tremendous donation of time and talent that people are giving to get me re-elected," Wendland said. "People from throughout the community are writing letters, helping place signs, reaching out to people, endorsing me, posting on social media, providing encouragement and getting out our message. Like the commercial says, 'Priceless.'"
Most of Pocklington's donations have come from individual Lake Oswego residents, with many contributions of $100 or less. Her biggest expenditure has been $5,615 on advertising with Pamplin Media Group, the parent company of The Review.
But it's Pocklington's $10,000 contribution from the classified employees union that has stirred the most emotion among residents such as Akerman and the Quartermans, who say it could call her decisions into question when the School Board begins negotiating union contracts.
Lake Oswego School District policy does state that the board will "oversee the collective bargaining process to establish collective bargaining agreements with the district's personnel." But according to School Board Chair Sarah Howell, the board does not currently have any members on the district bargaining team.
District staff members negotiate with the unions, Howell said, and then update the board, which approves labor contracts.
"As the elected governing body of the school district, the School Board sets the parameters to lead negotiations on behalf of the district, and the negotiating team uses those as guidelines for their work," Howell said. "Currently, the school district is in negotiations with both unions. Typically, these negotiations result in a two- to three-year contract. These negotiations are planned to be completed this spring. New school board members will begin their service on July 1."
Given that timeline, Pocklington will not be involved in negotiations over the latest contract. But the LOSEA's support, she said, will give her "the opportunity to educate more voters about the important choice that they have to make in this election."
"I think it's so important that our community have the opportunity to make an informed choice between John and myself," she said, "based on our qualifications for the job, the priorities we have for the district and our abilities to effect change."
All four candidates for Lake Oswego School Board appear to be meeting standards for state campaign finance regulations.
State law says a candidate needs to form a committee if contributions or expenses will exceed $750 in a calendar year. Liz Hartman, Sara Pocklington, Rob Wagner and John Wendland have all formed committees.
If a candidate expects to exceed $3,500 in contributions or expenditures, all transactions must be disclosed on the Oregon Secretary of State's website. Pocklington, Wendland and Wagner have done that; Hartman's listing is blank, however, since she has spent just $75 on filing fees and voters pamphlet expenses.
Campaign contributions cannot be taken out for personal use, but any remaining money does not have to be returned at the end of a campaign. Candidates can leave their committees and funds in place for possible future races, said Jennifer Hertel, a compliance specialist on the campaign finance team for the Oregon Secretary of State.
"There isn't a requirement that a campaign account be closed," Hertel said.
— Jillian Daley