As the newest member of the District 11 school board, Tom Strand, unlike his vocal predecessors, won't talk about the issues.
"I would be way out of line saying anything," he said when asked last week where he stood on some of D-11's volatile topics. "It would be sort of the man on the street. I know I am not the man on the street anymore. I would have to back off. I would feel insecure and not know enough facts. I need to have that. I apologize. If I step onto that lake, it is not going to hold me up."
The board member, who was voted in unanimously on Jan. 31 to replace Craig Cox, did offer this morsel on private schools, a matter that divided the old board for several years:
"I am a product [of the public-school system], and so it is just something I really believe in. As private schools develop, that saps the strength and energy and resources that are best used in a public system."
Diffidence aside, Strand's decades-long record of public service made him a clear choice for the board that went through the replacement of another two members in December's End the Chaos recall election.
Now retired from the military, Strand spent 30 years in the Air Force as a judge advocate general, an experience that he says is helpful now "in terms of attention to detail and ... understanding employee issues" and unions.
Strand, 58, moved to Old Colorado City two years ago, returning to the area he called home between 1975 and 1977 when he was stationed at Peterson Air Force Base. At that time, his wife Lyn was a special-education teacher at D-11's Jackson Elementary School.
Strand served last year on the district's bond oversight committee, helping to manage a $135 million bond. He works as a contractor for TouchMath, a local company developed in part by his wife that makes materials to help young children and the disabled learn math skills. He volunteers with the Service Corps of Retired Executives, or SCORE, to assist small companies with their business plans. He also gives of his time with the Red Cross, most recently helping Castle West fire victims access credit cards and clothing.
Strand has two adult children who attended public schools all over the country (but not in D-11) and internationally. Without kids in the district, Strand says he has "no agenda and no ax to grind" on the board. He hopes to reach out to other D-11 stakeholders who don't have school-aged children.
Strand was chosen over nine other applicants, one of whom Albert Gonzales was a contender in the recall election. Other candidates included retired educator Lois Fornander, a vocal critic of ousted pro-voucher board member Eric Christen. Richard Serby, a leader in the recall effort, also applied, as did Allison Hunter, an unsuccessful candidate last year for House District 15.
"One thing he said on his [application] was that there is a need to rebuild confidence in D-11," board president John Gudvangen said when asked why he chose Strand. "He seemed to have a lot of willingness and optimism as to who we are and what we can be."
As the board looks forward to more unity after three years of ceaseless infighting, deposed Christen hasn't completely ducked out. The former board member still has a District 11-owned laptop, a Dell Inspiron 9400 bought with $1,900 in taxpayer money. A district employee went to his house to retrieve it, but Christen refuses to surrender the computer, saying he will hand it over when his employers give him a replacement.
"I don't think the district will do anything forcefully," says board secretary Julie Stevens.