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Campaign contributions by district:

District 1:

Rhonda Thurman, incumbent — $6,782

Patti Skates — $12,235

Jason Moses — $3,766

District 2:

Jonathan Welch, incumbent — $137.79

Kathy Lennon — $12,890

District 4:

George Ricks, incumbent — not available

Tiffanie Robinson — $23,646.40

Montrell Besley — $3,117

District 7:

Donna Horn, incumbent — $1,996

Joe Wingate — $14,415

Source: second-quarter campaign financial disclosure statements

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*People who contributed to all four challengers’ campaigns:

  • Allen McCallie
  • Anita Davenport
  • Michael St. Charles
  • David Brock
  • Joe Davenport
  • Paul Brock

*People who contributed to at least three of the challengers’ campaigns:
  • Tom Decosimo
  • Buddy Faulkner
  • Allen Coffman
  • Kristina Montague
  • Charles Chitty
  • Olan Mills
  • Charlie Brock
  • Sarah Faulkner

*Source: second-quarter campaign financial disclosure statements

Attention is focused on this year's school board election, and now candidates' financial disclosures signal that a group of Chattanooga heavyweights are writing checks in hopes of winning new faces on the Hamilton County Board of Education.

In each of the four contested school board races, the challengers have significantly out-raised the incumbents, and in most races, a majority of the money is coming from outside the candidates' districts and from prominent Chattanoogans, according to second-quarter campaign filings.

"I'm sure the current board is well-intentioned, but the results are not there," said Paul Brock. "Leadership matters and that's why I'm working really hard to help get some change on the school board."

Brock, a wealth manager at Brown Associates Inc. and an influential civic leader, cited the district's low standardized test scores — which trail the state in nine out of 10 tested subjects — as one of the reasons why he's supporting a challenger in each of the four school board races.

Patti Skates of District 1, Kathy Lennon of District 2, Tiffanie Robinson of District 4 and Joe Wingate of District 7 have each received checks from influential Chattanoogans, including Brock, who also hosted an event for about 60 of his friends and colleagues to come meet these candidates.

"And quite frankly, that was a great way to raise great money for them to run smart campaigns," Brock said.

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George Ricks

In District 4, Tiffanie Robinson has raised $23,646.40 in the second quarter, fellow challenger Montrell Besley has $3,117 and incumbent George Ricks said he's raised between $850 and $1,000, though he had not yet filed his official campaign disclosure, which was due July 11.

Wingate has out-raised incumbent Donna Horn in District 7, as his filing says he's received $14,415 in contributions, and Horn sits at $1,996.

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Donna Horn

School board Chairman Jonathan Welch is running for reelection in District 2, and does not plan to accept contributions, he said. Welch's filing says he's received just $137.79, while Lennon has raised $12,890.

Welch said he's had numerous people ask to contribute to his campaign, and he's asking them to instead contribute to a public school.

"I would rather fund my own campaign and maintain my independence," he said.

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Staff photo by Angela Foster / Jonathan Welch listens during a meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Education

Welch said he's glad to see so much interest placed on education and the board elections.

"I think we are at a critical juncture with a huge opportunity with the selection of a new superintendent and I want to be a part of that," he said. "But with so many varied opinions I chose to self-fund my campaign so there would be no doubt about my independence in the process before us."

School board member Rhonda Thurman running for her fourth re-election in District 1, said she's never seen this much money thrown into a school board race.

Skates has raised $12,235, almost double the $6,782 Thurman has in contributions.

Combing through Thurman's filing, her support is primarily within her Soddy-Daisy and Sale Creek district — as she said it should be.

"People in the district need to pick their school board member," Thurman said. "I'd much rather take money from the hard working people like me."

Thurman said the people supporting the challengers in each district are the people "that like to control things," and said she doesn't want to be beholden to represent the interest of anyone but the people of her district.

Skates said receiving the donations does not buy her vote, nor was it asked for.

"The people giving money are taxpayers that want a change," she said. "They want the best for the children of Hamilton County."

Skates said running an election costs money, and personally, she didn't have the money to spend, and is thankful for the help.

Lennon and Robinson both said they're grateful for all the support and monetary donations they've received from people across the county who want to see public education improve.

Wingate did not return request for comment Wednesday.

Allen McCallie, an attorney at Miller & Martin, attended the meeting held by Brock, and said he sees this school board election as an opportunity.

"This is an opportunity to start fresh," McCallie said, citing the value and change good leadership can make on a school and district.

McCallie said this is the first time he's been involved supporting school board candidates, and he's impressed with each challengers' "common sense approach and fiscal responsibility."

He said in supporting these candidates he expects nothing in return.

"I'm supporting the idea that our public education system ought to be the best for our community," he said.

Elected officials have also been involved in several of the school board races, especially District 7.

Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley and City Councilman Larry Grohn supported Wingate during the second-quarter, as did Tennessee Majority Leader Gerald McCormick.

McCormick gave $1,000 to Wingate and Lennon. He did not return request for comment Wednesday.

The subset of the Hamilton County Education Association also contributed $500 to Wingate, Robinson and Skates, according to second-quarter filings.

Dan Liner, president of HCEA, said only a small part of this funding comes from member dues, as the majority of this money is designated for "political use."

He said each school board candidate was invited to come interview with the teacher's union, and that the union recommends candidates, sometimes multiple, in each race. Of the recommended candidates, those that say HCEA could be a help financially receive support.

He said along with the three candidates financially supported, the union also recommends Horn, Welch and Ricks for reelection.

Brock said when it comes to this election he is more involved than ever before because "remaining as is just isn't acceptable."

He said the most important thing the community can do is educate children, and praised the work of Chattanooga 2.0, an initiative working to improve public education and workforce development, for its success galvanizing community support to this end.

Looking ahead, Brock hopes new leadership in the school system will make Hamilton County schools the best in the state.

"I hope people will get out and vote," he said. "It's important."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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