As the race for the District 1 seat on the state board of education nears a close with the March 1 primary election approaching, incumbent board member Matthew Brown has raised more than three times as much money as his challengers.
District 1 encompasses more than 110,000 students in 154 public schools located in Baldwin, Mobile, Conecuh, Butler, Covington, Crenshaw and Escambia counties. The district is also home to city school systems in Andalusia, Brewton, Chickasaw, Opp, Saraland and Satsuma.
As of Feb. 5, Brown reported $40,399.60 in total contributions. Among his challengers, the closest fundraiser so far has been Chickasaw City Councilman Adam Bourne, who reported $13,881 in contributions as of Feb. 12.
In February, Brown reported an $18,000 contribution from Progress PAC, $500 from Gulf Distributing Co. of Mobile, $300 from Toby D. Brown, $250 from Partners in Patient Education LLC and $100 from Dr. William Barnhill.
Brown’s $18,000 contribution came from Progress PAC, a Montgomery-based PAC affiliated with the Business Council of Alabama.
“Progress PAC advocates for the business community statewide,” Brown said. “They want the state to elect people who will advocate for issues like tenure reform, school choice and career technical education in our schools. They know that I’m out here supporting those causes and I’m glad to have their support.”
The previous month, Brown received $1,000 from J. Randle McKinney, $500 from Matthew Metcalfe, $250 from Michael McCray, $250 from Mobile Bar Pilots LLC, $250 from Dr. Paul Cross, $250 from Mrs. Young Kim, and $100 apiece from Donald Rhine, James Grodnick and RPP LLC.
Brown received $200 from Tony Kennon, $1,000 from Kevin Spriggs, $250 from Roland Fry Jr., $250 from Barry Booth and $500 apiece from State Sen. Lee “Trip” Pittman, John Parker and John White-Spunner. The candidate has also made a handful of donations himself to the campaign totaling more than $4,000 in personal loans and in-kind donations.
Last July, Brown was appointed to the seat by Gov. Robert Bentley to fill the vacancy left by Al Thompson, who accepted a position with the Alabama Community College System Board of Trustees.
Brown, who led the Educate Baldwin Now campaign against higher property taxes in support of Baldwin County schools last March, said the people he has met on the campaign trail are concerned about the availability of career and technical preparation courses in the district.
Career technical programs in Gulf Shores and Foley schools along with the North and South Baldwin Centers for Technology could be a model for other systems in the district, according to Brown.
“I think people want to know that there are options out there besides going to a four-year college,” Brown said. “You can have a great career as a welder, or in health care, or in another technical field without a four-year degree. I think there are great programs like this in some places in the district, but others may need some help getting them off the ground.”
Brown’s closest fundraising challenger, Bourne, said that while a large portion of the incumbent’s support has come from PACs and personal donations, most of his campaign’s contributions have been donated by people he meets on the campaign trail.
“I certainly anticipated my campaign would be largely funded by small donations at the grassroots level because I don’t have support from any big PACs like Mr. Brown,” Bourne said. “I would say that without his PACs and personal contributions, I have raised as much or more than he has.”
Bourne received $756 from Mary F. Smith on Feb. 2. In January, he reported contributions of $500 from Farahat Enterprises, $250 from Hawk PAC, $250 from Hubert Cain Jr., $200 from John Clark and $100 from Joseph J. Minus Jr.
He also has received donations of $4,300 and $1,500 from the Committee to Elect Adam Bourne, $1,000 from William R. Sumter, $1,000 from Larry Lee, $500 from Edwina Bates, $250 from Campbell, Duke & Campbell, $250 from Brian D. Murphy, $250 from Mark C. Wolfe, $200 from Gregory B. McAtee PC and $200 from John V. Lee LLC.
“The people I have met so far expect someone to fight for education, and I will do that,” Bourne said. “I will tell you what I believe in and where I stand. You may not always like what I stand for, but I will firmly take a position and stick with it.”
Bourne is a self-described small government conservative who believes public education is one of the limited functions the government should provide to citizens.
“We should support public education because it makes such an impact on our lives every day,” Bourne said. “Better schools play a role in boosting the economy, the jobs market and making public safety better for everyone.”
The candidate said he is firmly against the RAISE Act, a teacher tenure reform bill currently being debated in the state legislature, and against Common Core standards, which he said have played a role in fomenting public distrust of public education.
Two other candidates, Carl Myrick and Jacquelyn “Jackie” Zeigler, also will appear on the ballot March 1.
As of January, Myrick reported a campaign fund balance of $1,383 in contributions. He reported receiving $500 apiece from Flo M. Myrick and Mary P. Sullivan and $100 from Sandra Spears. Zeigler reported $2,600 in contributions, the largest of which — a $2,000 donation — came in the form of a loan from State Auditor Jim Zeigler.