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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Head of Disputed School Board Campaign Committee Speaks: "We Back Candidates Who Share Our Values"

Core supporters of a new, independent campaign committee that has riled the Santa Barbara school board race met while backing the unsuccessful 2017 campaign for mayor of corporate executive Angel Martinez, according to the committee's principal officer.

Dan Ferrick, co-founder and CEO of Kiva Cowork in Santa Barbara, told Newsmakers that backers of the committee now have come together because of a "hope for change" in local public schools and are supporting candidates in at least four races who "share our values."

Ferrick said his group, which has been criticized for a lack of transparency by rival candidates, has complied with all state laws and requirements that regulate campaign finance filings. He blamed local election officials for delays in posting the committee's reports that disclose the identities of contributors, the amount of their donations and the candidates who benefit from the money.

"As we make contributions and expenditures, our professional treasurer in Sacramento ensures we are making the required filings," Ferrick said in an email interivew. "The filing you reference was made on 9/21 and filed electronically on FPPC form 497 on 9/22 as required by campaign finance rules.  

"Apparently, the County is quite behind in uploading the reports," he added.


State of play. The sudden appearance last week of mailers and house signs, paid for by the previously unknown committee and, for the first time, promoting challengers Elrawd MacLearn and Brian Campbell as a mini-slate in the seven-person race, ignitied a controversy over who was behind the campaign spending.

MacLearn and Campbell deepened the mystery by pleading ignorance about the identities of their financial benefactors.

"I’m not sure!" MacLearn responded when Newsmakers asked him about the matter. Campbell insisted to us that he learned of the group's support only when a reporter showed him one of its mailers, adding that, "I'm glad to see the people taking the charge (sic) on this campaign."

As we reported on Sunday, Impact Education also is backing two candidates in the County Board of Education race, two running for the City College board of trustees and one in the Goleta Union school board campaign.

The committee's list of six values on its web site, organized so the first letters spell "impact" (Inclusivity; Math & Literacy; Proficiency; Literacy; Choice; Transparency - IMPACT, get it?), are largely platitudes. However, one representative of the group used much sharper language in an emailed pitch for contributions, accusing the current board of "incompetence, corruption, ineptitude and (a) far far left political agenda..." The email appeal added:

"Please help me in supporting “Impact Education” in removing the existing cadre of political opportunists by replacing incumbents with a team of newcomers dedicated to ensure that our kids of every socio-economic level receive a strong academic education, efficiently use the tax payers’ money and operate in a non-political environment."

The commentary reflects a fundamental, underlying ideological and values conflict in the school board contest.

In interviews and media appearances, MacLearn and Campbell have attacked the performance of three liberal Democratic incumbents -- Laura Capps, Jackie Reid and Wendy Sims-Moten -- pointing to poor test scores to claim that the district has neglected fundamentals of reading, writing and critical thinking while favoring curricula and programs like Ethnic Studies, dual language immersion and implicit bias training, along with what they describe as age-inappropriate sex education classes, among other criticisms.

For example, MacLearn said in a recent podcast interview that in supporting such initiatives, and accepting demands from students allied with the Black Lives Matter movement, the board has embraced "Marxist ideologies."

Campbell, in an email conversation with Newsmakers, asserted that the board effectively supports a new system of "slavery," in his critique of chronically low test scores among Latino students: He wrote:

"Fact: Most Hispanic children cannot read or write at grade level. Fact: this has not improved in the last 4 years. 

Reminiscent of slavery days when the lords of the manor didn't want the slaves to learn how to read. The irony, Just Communities (implicit bias training) “teaching” Hispanic & minority youth that the white conservatives have opppressed (sic) them. While the District fails to teach them to read.  Slavery is still present today?  It is a Democratic endorsed school board that fails to educate the minorities."

Among the incumbents, Capps has been the most direct and aggressive in pushing back against such criticism, calling such views "extremism" that reflect right-wing political efforts across the nation. In a recent message to supporters, she wrote:

"I am alarmed by the politicization of our school board by opponents and the extreme group who backs them -- as we all should be,

"I found that some of the divisive views we see on the national level are also taking root here -- including false claims about a dual immersion language school and our medically-based sex education curriculum."

Fair Ed and Impact Ed. In citing an "extreme group" Capps was referencing Fair Education Santa Barbara, a non-profit organization whose members often testify at school board meetings against progressive programs, and some of whom unsuccessfully sued SBUSD over a contract with Just Communities, the non-profit that for years has provided implicit bias training for the district.

In the email interview, Ferrick acknowledged that James Fenkner, the high profile leader of Fair Education, has been one of the contributors to Impact Education, but said "there is no connection" between the two groups.

When Newsmakers reached out to Ferrick, the only local person listed on Impact Education's organizational filing, he said he was out of the country and unavailable for a telephone interview. So we emailed him several questions about Impact Education; here are his answers:

Q: Do you have partners in Impact Education, or is it only you?

A: I am the principal officer of Impact Education. For legal filings, it is just me, but I am supported by a broad group of community members who are concerned for the future of local education in Santa Barbara County.

Q: Why did you decide to support Elrawd and Brian? How did you decide whom to back in the County Board of Ed and SBCC races?

A: We support candidates that match our stated values 

Q: Has James Fenkner been involved in organizing and launching Impact Ed? A: James has supported Impact Education, along with others who initially met on the Angel Martinez campaign. Q: What connection is there between Impact Ed and Fair Education?

A: There is no connection between Impact Education and Fair Education. Some of the people who support Impact have also supported Fair Education because we share concerns with local schools and our hope for change.

Q: How much do you expect to put into the SBUSD race? County Board of Education? SBCC Board races?

A: We’re raising and spending funds as they come in and we will continue to support the candidates we feel share our values. We will do what we can with the funds we raise to promote what we believe in.

Q: Why hasn't Impact Ed reported its contribution to Elrawd on campaign finance filings, and are there other contributions to date that have not yet been reported?

A: As we make contributions and expenditures, our professional treasurer in Sacramento ensures we are making the required filings.  The filing you reference was made on 9/21 and filed electronically on FPPC form 497 on 9/22 as required by campaign finance rules.  Apparently, the County is quite behind in uploading the reports. 


Images: Dan Ferrick (LinkedIn); MacLearn-Campbell sign paid for by Impact Education; Ethnic Studies flyer from SB Unified; James Fenkner testifies to SB school board (Josh Molina/Noozhawk).

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