School board races around Georgia have become a flashpoint for hyperpartisan politics, especially after Republican stalwarts made issues like critical race theory household words.
Chatham County’s Board of Education races are notable for another reason: the waves of money they are attracting.
In campaign finance reports retrieved Friday, a new political action committee called Parents for Public Choice reported raising $87,000 for a slate of four Chatham County school board candidates: Roger Moss, who is running for president; Treye Burrison from District 5; Keith Padgett from District 6; and Jasmine Polley from District 8.
That sum adds to the robust donations given individually to candidates ahead of the May 24 vote. Moss is the runaway fundraising leader with approximately $190,000 in donations. His competitors for school board president — Tye Whitely and Todd Rhodes — have raised approximately $16,200 and $1,100, respectively.
In comparison, two of the Democratic candidates for the First District Congressional race to run against Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter this fall have raised less money than the school board PAC. Michelle Munroe has raised $84,000 — $50,000 of which was a loan — as of May 4. Joyce Griggs, meanwhile, has raised approximately $2,500. Wade Herring, in comparison, has received more than $637,000.
Officially, school board races are nonpartisan. However, donor information as well as locations of campaign events indicate that the purported frontrunners to lead the school board — Moss and Whitely — are pulling support from different segments of Chatham voters.
Whitely has secured brand-name endorsements from Fair Fight, the voting rights organization started by Stacey Abrams; Savannah Mayor Van Johnson; and state Rep. Edna Jackson, among others.
A graduate of Savannah Arts Academy, Whiteley says she counts as her core constituency progressive women in the county. She also says she has support among public school teachers and parents like her who are regulars at PTA meetings.
On Saturday morning, Whitely was a featured speaker at a Forsyth Park revival organized by St. Luke’s Missionary Baptist Church.
“If you want someone who is going to fight for us, get your children ready for a quality education before they even reach kindergarten, help them get a job or go to college, then go vote,” Whitely told the crowd of approximately 300 Black families in between sets by the church band.
Moss has held campaign events across diverse demographic and social groups. In the closing days of the campaign, he appeared at a Brian Kemp fundraiser at the Forest City Gun Club and at an event held by the Ladies of the Right, a conservative Republican group. His message is one of reform, telling supporters at multiple events across the county that the school system is failing children.
The chairman of Parents for Public Choice, meanwhile, is local political consultant Stephen Andrew Blascovich, who previously worked for former Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans.
Blascovich, who lives in Savannah, says he got interested in the Chatham County Board of Education races because as the father of two young children he wants local schools to be the best they can be.
“As a parent, and as the product of public schools and the child of a public school advocate, I am deeply interested in making sure we have strong public schools here in Coastal Georgia,” Blascovich wrote in an email replying to questions about the political action committee.
The PAC funders include some of Savannah’s most generous philanthropists and those with a long association with the well-regarded Savannah Classical Academy, the charter school for which Moss has worked. Among these are 1405 Inc. a company owned by Don Waters, who is a regent for the University of Georgia and a founder of Savannah Classical. Hatcher Holdings, which gave $15,000, has little online presence. Its articles of incorporation show its organizer as Reed Dulany and its registered address is the same building housing Dulany Industries. Both Waters and the Dulany family have given individual contributions to Moss’ campaign as well.
At the same time, the PAC also banked money from a Macon-based political consultancy run by a strategist known for her progressive political clients. Morton Strategy raised $24,500 for Moss and $5,000 for Keith Padgett on behalf of Parents for Policy Choice. While Morton Strategy has no website, its articles of incorporation show its organizer as Amy Morton, a lawyer who has previously worked for Democratic candidates such as Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, and Jen Jordan, a state senator currently running for attorney general. Morton’s husband is a member of the Macon-Bibb school board. Morton did not return phone calls and text messages seeking comment for her fundraising efforts for the PAC or Chatham candidates.
Despite the tidal waves of cash, the school board races are expected to be decided by close margins, with the possibility of several seats going to a runoff.
That’s why candidates were spending their weekend encouraging volunteers to knock on doors and urge people to vote on Tuesday, which also is the last day of school in Chatham County.
As of Friday morning, less than 8% of Chatham’s registered voters had voted early. Of those 59.7% voted with a Democratic ballot, and 39.4% voted with a Republican ballot.