LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Seven candidates are vying to finish out the unexpired term in District 4 of the Jefferson County Board of Education on Tuesday, but only one has the coveted endorsement of the local teachers’ union and the thousands upon thousands of dollars that brings with it.
While he’s been out-raised by one of his opponents by a significant margin, Joe Marshall holds a substantial spending advantage thanks to an endorsement from Better Schools Kentucky, the Jefferson County Teachers Association’s political action committee.
Marshall, a fourth-grade teacher at West End School who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by former board member Ben Gies’s July resignation, hopes to serve out the remainder of the term representing southwest Jefferson County before the District 4 seat is back before the voters next year.
To do that, he’ll have to fend off six others in the largest field of candidates for a local school board race in recent election cycles.
Marshall, who worked at Wheatley Elementary before leaving the Jefferson County Public Schools in 2015, says his candidacy “is a chance to secure the seat for teacher voice.” His work on the board has allowed him to visit every District 4 school since his fellow members appointed him Aug. 22.
“Teachers are working hard,” he told WDRB News. “As one, I know what it’s like grading papers late at night and trying to get your assessments together and complete everything you need to do, and a lot of times you don’t have time to really spend in advocating for the policies that would really help.
“That’s what I’ve been telling voters: It’s time that we take a teacher, put them in this seat and be a part of policymaking.”
Marshall is one of only two candidates that have reported raising any money in reports to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
The final fundraising reports before Tuesday’s election show that Shameka Parrish-Wright, Louisville site manager for The Bail Project, has collected more than five times as much campaign cash as Marshall, hauling in $8,510 to his $1,534 total.
But Better Schools Kentucky has more than evened the financial odds for Marshall.
Independent expenditure reports filed with KREF show the union’s PAC has spent $187,186 trying to elect Marshall, mostly in advertising.
Better Schools Kentucky has purchased $55,000 in media advertising, $50,000 in digital advertising, $34,161 for mailers, $3,445 for yard signs and $956 for T-shirts, among other expenses in its support of Marshall’s candidacy, according to KREF records. Federal Communications Commission records indicate that Better Schools Kentucky has placed advertisements with WDRB, WLKY and WAVE to air the week before Tuesday’s election.
“I think that we do run an aggressive campaign for the candidates we endorse,” JCTA President Brent McKim said. “Beyond that, I think the community values the endorsements that the teachers association makes for school board. The public cares who teachers think would do the best job on the school board, so I think it’s an important endorsement.”
The union’s endorsement and heavy spending usually pay off for its preferred candidates.
McKim said the only race he can recall the union losing in recent elections happened in 2012, when Chuck Haddaway beat JCTA-backed Lloyd “Chip” White by nearly 5 percentage points. Even then, Haddaway benefited from more than $66,000 in spending from The Bluegrass Fund, a group financed by local business people looking to counterbalance the union’s influence on school board races.
Parrish-Wright hasn't been discouraged by the union's decision to support one of her opponents in the race.
Tuesday's election shouldn't be seen as a popularity contest in her eyes, but rather a selection of someone "who's going to get the best things done for our youth."
"Teachers support teachers," Parrish-Wright said during a break on the campaign trail Friday. "I'm telling them I'm not a teacher, but I've been there for teachers time and time again."
The union’s decision to back Marshall’s candidacy has made an impact for others in the field, however.
Although she’ll be on the ballot Tuesday and is still working to sway voters ahead of the election, Debbie Gray said she decided to stop fundraising once JCTA endorsed Marshall. She understands that the union’s backing typically leads to success for that candidate.
“It’s discouraging from the point that you can’t fight that battle,” said Gray, director of employee relations for Volunteers of America Mid-States. “This is a school board election, a nonpartisan election, and it feels very much like a governor’s race almost.”
Marshall says issues like student safety, resource allocation for schools, and improving supports and pay for educators are among his top issues as a board member. He also says he doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other on what sort of equipment should be available to the district’s prospective force of school resource officers.
How such officers should dress and whether they should be allowed to carry firearms in schools has emerged as a divisive issue for some on the board.
“I don’t lean either way, but I do have strong connections on both sides,” Marshall said. “Talking to a couple principals in my district, they’re pretty strong about what they want for their buildings, and then I have parents on the other side who have concerns on their side.
“That’s the one thing about being a representative,” he continued. “You have to weigh these options and at the end of the day make the decision that’s best not only for your district but for the school system as a whole.”
Parrish-Wright's priorities as a prospective board member include school safety, district spending, restorative justice in schools and ensuring that JCPS teachers have the supports they need in their classrooms.
"Like good religions, there's a place where all of our platforms meet. but what makes me stand out is that I have proven experience with advocating for families and children and teachers as well," Parrish-Wright said.
"It's important to have good representation on that board," she added.
Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s election, the winner will need to immediately look ahead to defend the seat in 2020. Gray said if she’s not successful, she will likely run again next year.
“There’s going to be a year of voting behind the person that sits in that seat,” she said.
Others running for the District 4 seat Tuesday are:
- Dave Whitlock, a former constable who shot a suspected shoplifter in a Walmart parking lot in 2011 and now works as a store director of Bargain Hunt Stores
- Joe Goodin, a retired Air Force veteran who served as director of information technology systems for the Kentucky Air National Guard and also worked as a special education assistant and para-educator at Binet School and Carrithers Middle School
- Joe Laurenz, a delivery driver for Eagle Paper
- Cassandra Ryan, a homemaker
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