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Recently released reports show who is backing local political action committees helping fund candidates for the nonpartisan Buncombe County Board of Education. Here, nine of 10 board candidates answer voter questions during a September forum. Matt Rose/Carolina Public Press

The nonpartisan Buncombe County Board of Education race has attracted some very partisan attention — and campaign donations to back it up.

A Carolina Public Press analysis of campaign-finance reports filed the end of October shows how a slate of incumbents and a slate of rivals are funded.

Buncombe Forward, a political action committee supporting four challengers running against four incumbents, has received contributions from individuals who have worked with or held office in the Buncombe County Republican Party.

We Support Buncombe County Schools, a rival political action committee, has received money from current and past educators, as well as the current chairman of the school board. The four candidates it is working to elect have been endorsed by the Buncombe County Democratic Party.

We Support Buncombe County Schools is working to re-elect incumbents Dusty Pless, Chip Craig, Steve Sizemore and Ann Franklin, whose votes with two other school board members often result in 6-1 tallies that leave current board member Lisa Baldwin as the sole “no” voter. The four candidates’ website, Putting Students First, asserts that the four challengers are a “band of candidates backed by the Tea Party PAC Buncombe Forward and touted by board member Lisa Baldwin.”

Buncombe Forward is working to elect four candidates whose yard signs urge residents to “Vote For a Clean Slate” by voting for Jerry Green, Brian Freelan, Dan Hale and Amy Churchill. Baldwin supports the “Clean Slate” candidates on her Facebook page. On its website, Buncombe Forward calls the current school board “dysfunctional,” charging that it has been “fiscally irresponsible” and “unresponsive to parents’ concerns,” and has “engaged in questionable hiring practices.”

Anyone with a student in the Buncombe County Schools system is affected by the decisions that the seven-member board makes. See “Buncombe Board of Ed candidates debate school issues,” a story about the candidates and watch a Carolina Public Press’ complete video of a candidates’ forum featuring nine of the 10 candidates running for election to the board.

The board sets the school calendar, impacting family holiday and vacation plans. It makes decisions that affect sex education and religious expression. It hires the school superintendent, as well as school personnel based upon the superintendent’s recommendation. It hears appeals of personnel and disciplinary decisions made by principals and the superintendent.

Board members, who serve four-year terms, are elected in alternate elections every two years (in 2014, three will be chosen). Board members select their chairman. Voters elect a representative for the school district in which they live (excluding the Asheville City Schools district), as well as one at-large candidate.

Third-quarter campaign-finance reports were due Oct. 29. Both PACs filed reports.

We Support Buncombe County Schools backers

According to PAC treasurer McKenzie Kanipe, We Support Buncombe County Schools is led by Charles “Tommy” Koontz, a retired teacher and principal of T.C. Roberson High School. Charles T. Koontz Intermediate School, in south Asheville, is named for him.

Koontz contributed $200, but he wasn’t the PAC’s largest donor, by far. Among the $8,170 in contributions the PAC stated it had received was $1,000 from real estate business owner Winston Pulliam. The Committee to Re-elect Van Duncan, a Democrat who is Buncombe County sheriff, contributed $250. School board chairman Bob Rhinehart gave $500.

Retired Buncombe County superintendent Frank Yeager contributed $100 to the PAC. School principals have also chipped in: Eddie Burchfiel at Valley Springs Middle School ($100), Andy Peoples at North Buncombe Elementary School ($150) and Tom Keever at Enka Middle School ($100).

Former Buncombe County principal and school board member Richard Greene donated $100. Roger Metcalf, director of the Western Region Education Service Alliance, gave $100.

The candidates’ contributions to the PAC were $1,000 from Franklin, Craig and Sizemore (the latter through his wife and treasurer) and $500 from Pless’s election committee. The PAC bought most of the yard signs and placards the candidates have disseminated.

The PAC spent $6,292, according to its report, leaving it $1,878 on hand. Its biggest expenditures were to Charter Media — a total of $6,268 for a TV spot on behalf of the four candidates.

The Buncombe County Democratic Party has not contributed money to the PAC.

Buncombe Forward backers

In its campaign-finance reports, Buncombe Forward said it received $3,338 from individuals. Robert Malt, former chairman of the Buncombe County Republican Party, is its executive director.

Buncombe Forward’s reports show that contributors included J. Lloyd Kirk of Forest Manor Inn ($500); self-employed accountant Stuart Weidie ($500); Robert Knapp, a former Republican candidate for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and treasurer of the Buncombe GOP ($500); Mark Cates, a former Republican candidate for Asheville City Council ($450); and Dorothea Alderfer, the PAC’s treasurer, who is active in county Republican politics ($275). Malt contributed $150 plus an in-kind contribution for phone calls valued at $323.25.

Kathie Lack, a veterinarian who has been active with the Buncombe County Republican Action Club, gave $100. Retired teachers Betty Budd and Linda Humphries contributed $75 and $70, respectively. The committees to elect Churchill, Freelan, Hale and Green contributed money as well to help pay for yard signs and placards.

Buncombe Forward’s reports show that it paid Gary Shoemaker of Asheville $207.55 for “investigative reports.” Shoemaker, who formerly ran a website called Liberty Asheville, was the Buncombe County Republican Party membership director in 2010. Buncombe Forward paid him to do background checks on candidates the PAC was considering endorsing, he said.

“It was just a formality to make sure that someone doesn’t wreck the campaign,” Shoemaker said.

Buncombe Forward’s other expenses, according to the PAC’s reports, were for office supplies, bank charges and advertising with the Asheville Daily Planet. We Support Buncombe County Schools reported similar ancillary expenses.

Buncombe County school board candidates overview, with information on support by the political action committees:

Roberson district — Steve Sizemore, incumbent; Amy Churchill, challenger

Owen district — Chip Craig, incumbent; Dan Hale, challenger

North Buncombe district — Ann Franklin, incumbent; Brian Freelan, challenger

At-large — Dusty Pless, incumbent; Jerry Green, Chico Januszkiewicz, and Alan Ditmore, challengers

The so-called “Putting Students First” candidates, supported by political action committee We Support Buncombe County Schools:

Chip Craig, Owen district

Steve Sizemore, Roberson district

Ann Franklin, North Buncombe district

Dusty Pless, At-large

The so-called “Clean Slate” candidates, supported by political action committee Buncombe Forward:

Dan Hale, Owen district

Amy Churchill, Roberson district

Brian Freelan, North Buncombe district

Jerry Green, At-large


Special Report

Visit ELECTION 2012 for Carolina Public Press’ election coverage.

Paul Clark

Paul Clark is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at paulgclark@charter.net.

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  1. Although I would probably support the incumbent slate if the races were purely ideological as the incumbants would probably support more contraception education. The board is so full of rampant cronyism that I voted primarily for the challenger slate outside of voting for myself, which is a sacrifice of ideology in order to break up a VERY stagnant old boy network. What we need is a more gridlocked board, more like congress, to bring the real issues out into the open!