Big money floods local Tulsa school board races

by The Black Wall Street Times
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Tulsa voters head to the polls on Tuesday in what is likely to be the most expensive school board election in years.

Voters in school board districts 4 and 7 will have the chance to decide who will represent their community on the Board for the next four years. Tulsa school board races normally fly under the radar, but the national political climate has heightened awareness.

While it’s still unclear if the increased attention will drive local turnout, it’s definitely driving up donations. And the money funding these races isn’t just coming from local Tulsans.

The latest campaign finance reports and candidate posts show that well over $100,000 has been raised between the four candidates.

The Black Wall Street Times broke down the numbers in each district ahead of Tuesday’s election.

District 7 dollars: Tim Harris and Susan Lamkin

In School Board District 7, candidates Tim Harris and Susan Lamkin were neck-and-neck in a four-way February primary. Lamkin finished first with 48.7% of the vote, while Harris took second with 46.8% of the vote. Now facing one another in Tuesday’s general election, both candidates find themselves nearly tied again, this time in total dollars raised.

According to campaign finance reports, Harris has slightly out-raised Lamkin, hauling in roughly $41,000 to her $35,000. This information includes all donations received by the campaign up until March 21, 2022.

A deeper look into the numbers, however, shows Lamkin in a stronger position with small-dollar donors.  While school board campaigns are not required to list details of contributions of $50 or less, they must report total amounts.

According to reports, Lamkin has received 78 contributions of $50 or less, totaling $3405. Harris has received 17 contributions of $50 or less, totaling $740.

Harris has also received far more out of city, out of state and PAC donations than Lamkin. Nearly $10,000 more.

Campaign documents show Harris received a total of $3300 in contributions over $50 from state residents living outside of Tulsa. The former DA also received $3100 in out of state contributions and $3500 in PAC donations. That includes $1500 from the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee.

Lamkin, on the other hand, received a combined total $850 in out-of state, out-of-city and PAC contributions over $50.

District 4 dollars: E’Lena Ashley and Shawna Keller

In District 4, E’Lena Ashley is running to unseat incumbent board member Shawna Keller.

According to the Tulsa World, Ashley’s campaign has not yet filed their campaign finance documents for the first quarter with the clerk of the school board. However, the campaign says that they have raised roughly $15,000 from 50 individuals and “two organizations” since January 1st.

In their financial report for the 4th quarter of 2021, Ashley’s campaign reported raising a total of $1940. The report detailed that $1500 of that came directly from Ashley.

That same Tulsa World article stated that Shawna Keller’s campaign reported a total of just over $12,500 during the first quarter of 2022. That’s in addition to the $1700 the campaign reported raising during the last quarter of 2021. The campaign did not list a contribution of more than $50 from the candidate herself.

Stakes are high in Tuesday’s school board elections

With record-setting donations and high turnout expected, Tuesday’s school board elections are likely to be some of the most high-stakes in recent memory.

Harris says he is spurred by his career as a longtime prosecutor seeing how a lack of a strong education interrupts a child’s future. Ashley says she is motivated by her faith and sense of duty. Both Harris and Ashley are running as opposition candidates, positioning themselves strongly against anti-racist curriculum, social-emotional learning and what they call “woke” learning.

Keller, a career teacher and long-time school board member, is running for her third, four-year term. Lamkin, a long-time PTA volunteer, is running on a platform to work alongside stakeholders to build lasting solutions. Both Keller and Lamkin position themselves as moderates in the race.

School board races generally garner only a few thousands votes and roughly as many dollars. However, in a climate where education has been hyper-politicized, these races may serve as an early indicator of what Oklahomans want for the future of their public schools.

Update: an earlier mathematical error incorrectly reflected total small donor amounts. That information is now updated.

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