By Adam Andrzejewski
Paul Martino, a Doylestown, Pennsylvania entrepreneur, wanted his kids and all the others across the Keystone State to be able to attend K-12 schools – meaning in-person, classroom instruction.
Martino opposed pandemic-related school closures. It was the fall of 2021, and most schools across the state were still virtual only – in large part because the teachers union opposed re-opening because of the pandemic.
So, Martino dug deep and donated $500,000 to school board candidates who promised to re-open their local schools. For his sacrifice, Martino was vilified in Philadelphia Inquirer and accused of playing toxic politics.
However, in the November 2021 elections, his candidates tended to win despite being outspent – in large part by the teacher unions.
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Martino founded Bullpen Capital, a Silicon Valley venture fund, and co-founded Back to School PA PAC along with Clarice Schillinger – a local mom fed up with remote instruction of her kids. Through the PAC, Martino gave $10,000 to 50 local political action committees that backed 50 slates of up to five school board candidates each.
The local races have no campaign contribution limits.
Depending on the district’s size, a typical school board race can cost between a few hundred dollars and $10,000. Donating $10,000 per slate could really help candidates get their names out and build voter support.
Focus on Martino’s own local school district
National and statewide news outlets covered Martino’s efforts. However, maybe the biggest impact came in his local Central Bucks School District, where his two children attend school.
With Martino’s backing, new candidates won three of the five open school board seats in the November election.
Local press focused on Martino’s money funding the races and supposedly tipping the scales. However, it turned out that his candidates were outspent!
The statewide teacher’s union supported the five Democratic candidates in the Central Bucks School District with a $40,000 donation.
Speaking during the public comment portion of the school board meeting, the father and businessman explained that campaign finance records showed that while his Back to School PA PAC was criticized for spending half a million dollars on races in the state, in the school district, the teacher’s union helped out-fund his candidates.
“It was widely reported that the candidates I supported had a massive funding advantage in these races,” Martino said. “Now that the campaign finance reports are available, I am here to tell you that the Democrat candidates raised $122,000 to our $95,000, outspending us by almost $30,000 or about 30 percent.”
Martino’s organization authored a white paper report on the campaign finance findings and he summarized it at the meeting.
“The analysis shows definitively that the often repeated narrative stating that Back to School PA spent an unprecedented amount of money is false,” his report states.
Martino spent $60,000 in the district’s races, but never hid his funding. The Democratic funds, however, came from 10 different PACs that transferred funds from one to another, making it nearly impossible to trace the funding sources.
“I was not the source of dark money,” he said at the meeting. “My contributions were clearly marked. It was the other team that was hiding the ball.”
Of the $122,000 the Democratic candidates got, almost $40,000 came from Pennsylvania State Education Association — PSEA, the teacher’s union.
Given that, Martino asked recently-elected Democratic board members Mariam Mahmud and Tabitha Dell’Angleo to recuse themselves from the upcoming contract negotiations with the teachers union.
The current contract for teachers in Central Bucks expires on June 30.
“While these contributions are fully legal, there is certainly a question of ethics as the CBSD teachers’ union contract is up for negotiation this year. In prior years, contributions of approximately $500 from the PSEA to each endorsed candidate were not uncommon.
What is uncommon is almost $40,000 being contributed to this slate of five candidates, two of which are now sitting members of the school board. This is a clear conflict of interest, and these two newly elected candidates should recuse themselves from the negotiation of this new contract.”
Source: Official White Paper – A Full Accounting of Money Raised on the 2021 Central Bucks School District (CBSD) Board Races
We reached out to newly elected Democratic board members Mariam Mahmud and Tabitha Dell’Angleo and the statewide teacher’s union for comment and will update the piece if they respond.
Review the 2021 Central Bucks School District payroll posted at OpenTheBooks.com. The district employs 1,654 people, for $147.7 million. Top-paid teachers include 367 who made the maximum salary of $112,863.
The Central Bucks union contract applies to teachers, nurses, school librarians, guidance counselors, staff development facilitators, school psychologists and long-term substitutes.
The work year is 195 days — that’s 39 weeks of five workdays.
The workweek is 38 hours, “including provisions for lunch periods.” Employees have other responsibilities outside the normal work week, including faculty meetings, back-to-school nights, parent, teacher or student-requested conferences, and department or curriculum meetings — up to three hours per month.
Pay ranges by “step” and is between $46,649 and $112,863 in the 2020-21 school year.
Watch Paul Martino’s public comment to the Central Bucks School Board meeting on YouTube.
Note: We requested comment from the PSEA and school directors Mariam Mahmud and Tabitha Dell’Angleo. None responded by our deadline.
In years past, Paul Martino or his immediate family has contributed to the transparency mission of OpenTheBooks.com, a public charity organized under IRS section 501c3.
About the author
Adam Andrzejewski (say: And-g-f-ski) is the CEO/Founder of OpenTheBooks.com. Last year we filed 47,000 FOIA requests and captured $12 trillion in government spending (2021). Work featured at The BBC, Good Morning America; ABC World News Tonight; USA Today; The Wall Street Journal; Forbes; and The New York Times. My presentation to the Hillsdale College National Leadership seminar posted on YouTube has 3.7 million views. Learn more at OpenTheBooks.com.