school board candidates sitting at a table facing an audience at fremont high school
All nine candidates running for the Oakland Unified School District board gathered for a forum at Fremont High School on Oct. 18, 2022. Credit: David Meza

Each election year, hundreds of thousands of dollars flow into local elections in Oakland, including school board races. While this year has seen significant fundraising, some of the groups that collected and spent hefty sums in support of school board candidates in previous years haven’t done so this year.

One of those organizations is GO Public Schools Advocates, the political arm of GO Public Schools, an education policy group in Oakland. Between 2012 and 2020, GO Public Schools’ independent expenditure committee contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to successful and unsuccessful school board candidates. This year, however, the group has only spent money promoting Measure S, a city ballot measure that would allow noncitizen parents and other guardians to vote in school board elections. According to the latest filings, GO Public Schools Advocates has spent about $17,540 in support of Measure S. 

CCSA Advocates, the political arm of the California Charter Schools Association, is another group that has pulled back on campaign spending in Oakland this year. The organization spent more than $100,000 promoting the candidacy of District 7 Director Clifford Thompson in 2020, but hasn’t spent any money in this year’s school board races. 

“CCSA Advocates is always evaluating our electoral priorities and we engage where it makes the most sense in any given election cycle,” Jeff Macedo, the group’s communications director, told The Oaklandside in an email.

Oakland Unified School District elections have sometimes attracted large contributions from wealthy outside donors. Past examples include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and Silicon Valley businessman Arthur Rock. These individuals made their contributions through independent expenditure committees.

In Oakland, candidates are only allowed to accept campaign contributions of up to $900 from individuals and $1,800 from political committees, per election cycle. But independent expenditure committees are allowed to accept much larger donations—from wealthy individuals or labor unions, for example—and spend that money to support specific campaigns, as long as they are not communicating with or coordinating their efforts with the candidates.

In 2020, Bloomberg, Rock, and oil company heir Stacy Schusterman donated more than $300,000 combined to a new local committee called Power2Families that represented charter school families in Oakland, and which had endorsed a candidate in each of the four school board races that year, in districts 1, 3, 5, and 7. Three of those candidates—Austin Dannhaus, Maiya Edgerly, and Leroy Gaines—lost. The fourth, Clifford Thompson, narrowly won his race to represent District 7. GO Public Schools endorsed the same slate of candidates as Power2Families in 2020, along with an additional candidate in District 3. The Power2Families committee hasn’t made any expenditures this election cycle.

One new committee was established this year, called United Teachers of Oakland. The group later changed its name to Oakland Teachers Supporting Resnick and Mungia for School Board 2022. It received $20,000 from Lynn Schusterman, a billionaire philanthropist and mother to Stacy Schusterman, and $141,000 from the Committee for California.

The Committee of California was funded in 2019 with more than $14 million leftover from former Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 campaign. In 2020, The Committee of California spent more than $125,000 supporting the candidacies of Oakland school board candidates Dannhaus, Edgerly, Gaines, and Thompson. 

This year, the committee formerly known as United Teachers of Oakland has spent $83,300 promoting Kyra Mungia, the currently appointed District 6 school board director who is running for a full term, and $73,200 promoting Nick Resnick in District 4, according to the latest campaign filings. Committee members did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Oaklandside.

The Oakland Education Association, the union that represents OUSD teachers, has been a consistent contributor to school board elections, including this year. The union’s political action committee, which functions as an independent expenditure committee, has put about $94,000 towards supporting the campaigns of three candidates. OEA has spent $29,621 promoting retired teacher Jennifer Brouhard in District 2, $36,674 supporting OUSD parent Pecolia Manigo in District 4, and $27,616 backing labor organizer Valarie Bachelor in District 6. The union is also encouraging voters to support Max Orozco and Joel Velasquez on their ranked-choice ballots in districts 2 and 6, respectively. 

“OEA members realize that we need to have parent voices on the school board because for so long, our school board has not listened to our parents and families,” said Keith Brown, the president of OEA. “We’re excited to have a candidate that is a mother to OUSD students and having the voice of experienced educators on our school board is something that really appeals to our members.”

Additionally, OEA has spent about $18,987 promoting Measure H, a parcel tax renewal for OUSD that supports college and career readiness for high school students. 

OEA has also contributed directly to the candidates, donating $1,800 each to Bachelor, Manigo, and Brouhard. In 2020, three of the four candidates endorsed and supported by the union were elected to the board: Sam Davis in District 1, VanCedric Williams in District 3, and Mike Hutchinson in District 5. 

Brown also spoke against the new independent expenditure committee that claims to be representing teachers. 

“We are concerned that now there are political action committees that have recently emerged that have ties to former governor and mayor Jerry Brown that do not represent the values of Oakland teachers and the community but are trying to deceive the voters and say that they are the teachers of Oakland,” Brown said about the United Teachers of Oakland group. “This PAC is not supported by the teachers of Oakland, their financial resources are not coming from the teachers of Oakland.”

Here’s how much each of this year’s school board candidates have raised directly so far—not counting independent expenditure money—according to each candidate’s most recent campaign finance disclosure forms: 

District 2

Brouhard, a retired teacher, has raised $17,099. 

David Kakishiba, a former OUSD director and the current executive director of the East Bay Asian Youth Development Center, has raised $10,410.

Orozco, a District 2 parent, has raised about $2,295. 

District 4

Resnick, a former OUSD teacher, has raised the most money, $59,820. 

Manigo, an OUSD parent and leader of a parent advocacy organization, has raised $30,618, according to the latest campaign filings. 

Hutchinson, the current District 5 director, has raised $10,046. Hutchinson, who won the District 5 seat in 2020, is running in District 4 this year because of redistricting, which placed his Glenview neighborhood in District 4. 

Hutchinson is currently being investigated by the Oakland Public Ethics Commission over possible campaign contribution violations when he ran in 2016. According to the complaint, Hutchinson failed to file a Form 460, which is required for all candidates who will raise or spend more than $2,000. Candidates usually file multiple 460 forms throughout a campaign, which track their donations and expenses. In April of this year, the Public Ethics Commission issued a subpoena to Hutchinson to produce bank statements for his 2016 campaign committee. Hutchinson has yet to produce the documents, and the commission filed a lawsuit in June asking the Alameda County superior courts to force Hutchinson to comply.

Hutchinson said he plans to resolve the issue after this election. 

“I was a grassroots candidate in 2016 who did not do very well in the election,” Hutchinson told The Oaklandside. “Some of the paperwork didn’t get filed at the end of the campaign, is my understanding.”

District 6

Mungia, a former OUSD teacher and current staffer for Mayor Libby Schaff, has raised $65,759. Mungia is also the incumbent in this race, having been appointed to the District 6 seat in June.

Bachelor, a labor organizer, has raised about $32,956. 

Velasquez, a District 6 parent, has raised $3,470 for his campaign.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.