For the first time in four years, one school board candidate has attracted campaign money from groups outside the state interested in seeing changes in the way Memphis schools are run.
Kori Hamner, a former Shelby County Schools employee, has received $6,800 from the Leaders in Education Fund, a group with ties to Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City who reshaped how schools were evaluated and brought charters to the city.
Other contributors affiliated with this group are Leadership for Educational Equity, a Washington D.C.-based PAC that supports Teach for America alumni running for public office. It also paid the campaign a separate $1,000 loan. Arthur Rock, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is also affiliated with the group and separately contributed $1,500 to Hamner’s campaign.
Hamner said Leadership for Educational Equity’s goal is “making sure that an educator is on the school board.”
“Every dollar that we raise is another voter we can reach with our message of putting kids first in our district,” said Hamner, now the managing director of teacher training organization Achievement Network.
Hamner, who is challenging incumbent Mike Kernell, is also one of the two biggest spenders in the campaign. The other is incumbent Billy Orgel, a real estate developer and business owner who represents much of East Memphis. Together they spent more than half of the $45,000 from all the candidates who reported spending to the state.
Orgel has about $85,000 on hand and has spent more than $19,000 — most of which went to a local public relations firm. He faces the least opposition with only one opponent, Jerry Cunningham, a retired Memphis educator who has not filed any campaign finance paperwork.
The only other candidate bringing in money from outside Memphis is Michelle Robinson McKissack, a magazine editor and board member for Crosstown High School who is challenging incumbent Chris Caldwell in the downtown district.
McKissack described her outside funding, which was less than a quarter of Hamner’s, as a network of family and friends in Illinois, where she attended college and lived, and a few other states.
Representatives of Memphis philanthropies, which have put a lot of money into shaping local education policy, have also contributed to several races.
Pitt Hyde, the owner of AutoZone and founder of Hyde Family Foundation, and his wife, Barbara Hyde, contributed $1,500 each to McKissack. Teresa Sloyan, the executive director of Hyde Family Foundation, donated to Orgel. Courtney Leon, Plough Foundation’s program officer, donated to incumbent Shante Avant; Diane Rudner, Plough’s chairwoman, donated to Orgel. (Plough and Hyde foundations are also Chalkbeat funders.)
Fellow school board members and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson are throwing their support behind incumbents. Board member Kevin Woods, whose district includes the schools in Germantown, gave $500 to Orgel. Orgel gave more than $1,000 to both Avant and Chris Caldwell, who both face three opponents, and Teresa Jones and Hopson contributed to Avant’s campaign.
Four candidates do not have recent campaign finance reports on the state’s website: Michael Scruggs, a former teacher; Percy Hunter, the parent and community engagement coordinator for charter network Green Dot Public Schools; Cunningham, the retired teacher; and Alvin Crook, a representative for the Tennessee Young Democrats.
And four candidates have not raised or spent more than $1,000: Roderic Ford, a loss prevention officer at Schulte Hospitality; Minnie Hunter, a store manager at Quick Cash; Joyce Dorse-Coleman, a community liaison for the Orange Mound Gallery; and incumbent Mike Kernell.
Early voting started July 13; the election is Aug. 2. To find your district, check out the maps from Shelby County Schools.