Who Is Behind Impact Education?

Curious Political Action Committee Sprouts Up Amid Santa Barbara Election Chaos

James Fenkner, an outspoken member of the nonprofit Fair Education, speaking out at a Santa Barbara Unified School Board meeting. Fenkner is one of dozens who donated money to Impact Education, a political action committee that focuses on literacy reform in the local public schools. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

What was once a mysterious entity in the local elections this year has now come out into the light.

A political action committee (PAC) called Impact Education grabbed the attention of local residents in recent weeks as mailers and lawn signs for candidates across several races began popping up all over town. Though all school board races are considered nonpartisan, the PAC dedicated to literacy reform in local public schools has supported a slate of all conservative-leaning candidates.

In the Santa Barbara Unified School Board race, the PAC has supported two candidates — Elrawd MacLearn and Brian Campbell — via a $5,000 contribution to MacLearn and mailers on behalf of both candidates. Until recently, any financial filings made by the committee weren’t posted, leading voters to question who was behind Impact Education.

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Dan Ferrick, the committee’s principal officer, told the Independent that the group’s treasurer in Sacramento had filed all of the financial statements and adhered to all deadlines. He said that because the invoice for the candidate mailers came after the first filing deadline, he filed expenditure reports on October 8. At the same time the expenditure reports were filed, the contribution reports were also filed, revealing the main donors behind Impact Education.

The PAC has been accused of being a cover for Fair Education, a nonprofit which unsuccessfully sued the district over its contract with an implicit-bias training organization, Just Communities.

Many Fair Education members have been known to frequently speak out at board meetings in criticism of the Santa Barbara Unified district. James Fenkner, Sheridan Rosenberg, and Peggy Wilson are among several Fair Education members who gave to the PAC — $510; $1,000; and $1,000, respectively — though Ferrick has said there is no official tie between the two groups.

The name Impact is actually an acronym that stands for Inclusivity, Math and literacy, Proficiency, Accountability, Choice, and Transparency. Its website says that its “mission is to support democracy and openness, enhance choice and competition, and enable a greater diversity of school board candidates the opportunity to serve our community and improve our local schools.”

The core of Impact Education is not Fair Education but the same supporters of the 2017 unsuccessful mayoral candidate Angel Martinez. Many of them overlap, but the initial group that formed the political committee is linked by its past support for Martinez.

The largest single donation to the PAC was $10,000 from Jaje Incorporated, a real estate investment business owned by State Street’s biggest landlord, James Knell. Other notable donors include $500 from retired General Motors executive Jim Westby, and another almost $300 came from Gregory Gandrud, who is retired from Carpinteria City Council but still highly active in the local Republican party.

In all, Impact Education has raised about $53,000. The next deadline to file financial statements is October 22.

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