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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Here are some of the biggest funders of the Milwaukee School Board candidates

Courtesy of candidates
Top row, left to right: Jeff Spence, Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves, Missy Zombor and Gabi Hart. Bottom row left to right: Marva Herndon, Darryl L. Jackson, Pamela Holmes, Megan O'Halloran and Erika Siemsen.

Judging from campaign contributions, the race for Milwaukee School Board is shaping up to be a contest between teachers’ union-backed candidates and candidates supported by business leaders and charter school advocates.

Five seats on the nine-member school board are up for grabs in the April 4 election: an at-large seat representing the entire city, along with districts 1, 2, 3, and 8. Four of the races are competitive.

There are four contested races for the Milwaukee School Board April 4th election. The candidates running for District 1 are Marva Herndon and Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves. Candidates for District 2 are Erika Siemsen and Pamela Holmes. District 3 candidates are Darryl L. Jackson and Gabi Hart. Candidate for District 8 is Megan O'Halloran. At-Large candidates are Missy Zombor and Jeff Spence.

At-large candidates Jeff Spence and Missy Zombor have raised and spent the most money according to the latest campaign finance disclosures filed with the city. Spence raised $56,061 and spent $43,052. Zombor raised $39,863 and spent $24,611.

Spence is partially self-funding his campaign. He also received donations of $6,000 from charter and private choice school advocates, including Carmen Schools founder and former City Forward Collective director Patricia Hoben, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce board member Cory Nettles, and former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Zombor’s biggest donations in the pre-election finance report were $5,000 from the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association PAC Fund, $1,500 from retired teacher Marlene Ott, $1,200 from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, $1,377 from the federal Democratic Party, and $1,000 from the IBEW.

The MTEA PAC Fund and the IBEW also supported District 1 candidate Marva Herndon, District 2 candidate Erika Siemsen, and District 3 candidate Gabi Hart. Herndon and Siemsen are both incumbent board members running for a second term; Hart is a newcomer.

Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves is challenging Herndon for the District 1 seat. She’s raised $14,781 and spent $11,214. Her biggest individual donations come from Abele ($1,461), Nettles ($1,450), Hoben ($1,461) MMAC board member Ted Kellner ($1,000) and MMAC board member Robert Arzbaecher ($1,000).

Hendricks Reaves outspent her opponent, Herndon, who raised $4,386 and spent $4,506.

Abele, Nettles, Arzbaecher, and Kellner — all of whom are associated with the MMAC — also contributed to Darryl L. Jackson’s campaign for MPS District 3. He raised a total of $7,395 and spent $1,245. His opponent, Gabi Hart, raised $5,044 and spent $1,963.

In District 2, write-in candidate Pamela Holmes is challenging incumbent Erika Siemsen. Siemsen outraised Holmes, with about $3,569 in contributions and $4,379 in expenditures. Her biggest donations were from the MTEA PAC Fund and the IBEW.

Holmes raised $2,570 and spent $1,345. Her biggest individual donors were Elijah Reaves, Arzbaecher, current board member Aisha Carr, and Michael Jones.

Megan O’Halloran, who is uncontested for District 8, raised $1,882 and spent $1,205. Her largest donation was from the MTEA PAC Fund.

The Journal Sentinel reported that a political action committee, the CFC Action Fund, spent $25,000 on literature and canvassing for Spence, Jackson and Hendricks Reaves. The CFC Fund is connected to City Forward Collective, a Milwaukee nonprofit founded by Hoben that advocates for more funding for charter and choice schools.

The MTEA has long been at odds with the MMAC and private and charter school advocates, arguing that those schools weaken traditional public schools by siphoning students and the state funding that follows them. The MMAC and City Forward Collective say they support schools in all sectors.

The MPS Board authorizes 13 independently-run charter schools. The students are counted in MPS’s enrollment, but the schools are staffed by non-union employees and run independently. Charter school leaders have been frustrated by MPS board decisions on charter school contract renewals. Some members of the MPS board are opposed to independently-run charter schools.

In 2019, an MTEA-backed slate of five candidates won election to the school board. In the most recent 2021 election, two MTEA-backed candidates were defeated by Aisha Carr and Jilly Gokalgandhi.

Need help learning how to vote on April 4? Our voter guide has the information you need on the voting process and how to participate.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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