State Board of Education
For someone who sits on a board that receives scant attention, Peggy Littleton sure has been in the headlines of late.
It wasn't for anything she accomplished since being appointed earlier this year to serve out someone else's term on the Colorado Board of Education. Rather, Littleton's notoriety stems from the color of her hair: blond.
In August, Littleton joined two other golden-dyed, middle-aged, pink-business-suited women from Colorado Springs, playing up her Blond Babes for Bush status at the Republican National Convention in New York.
"It's not like a bimbo thing," Littleton said. "We're classic. We're classy and we're conservative."
Littleton's opponent for Colorado Board of Education, Karen Teja, is a brunette.
"What this [race] boils down to is, do people support local control? Do people want someone with experience?" said Teja, a member of the region's largest school district, D-11, for the past six years.
Teja and Littleton are vying for a nonpaying, six-year term representing Congressional District 5 on the board. The board oversees the state's public schools.
So far, Teja, an independent, has raised $11,000 compared to Littleton's $2,800. Teja has garnered endorsements from Republicans including Manitou Springs Mayor Marcy Morrison, who is a former state representative, and Ken Salazar, who is the Democratic attorney general running for U.S. Senate. Her war chest includes donations from teachers, school administrators, parents and business people.
Littleton, meanwhile, has garnered support from notable voucher activists, including Steve Schuck and D-11 board member Willie Breazell.
A Girl Scouts leader who has a degree in early childhood education, Teja is campaigning on the issue of "local control," a phrase, she said, that underscores her belief that schools should be run by parents and locally elected boards.
That's why recent comments by Littleton didn't sit well with Teja.
Littleton recently urged the D-11 board not to renew a union contract for teachers. During her presentation, she claimed that teachers work with students only 170 days a year out of 365 days and claimed teachers were putting in fewer than five hours daily.
"I don't know about you, but I don't think I could have been an excellent teacher teaching 4.6 hours in my classroom," she told board members. Actually, according to the Colorado Springs Education Association, teachers work at least 7 hours and 36 minutes in school a day, a figure that does not include time spent grading homework, preparing lesson plans and other student-related activities.
Teja subsequently called Littleton's comments inappropriate because Littleton is not a D-11 board member.
Littleton conceded such: "Did I step out of my bounds on that one? Yeah, probably."
Campaigning on "school choice" -- which is synonymous with school vouchers and charter-school expansion -- Littleton compared vouchers to shopping for clothing at Foley's or Wal-Mart: "Anytime, you have a market that has competitive products, it will make other people step up to the plate and say, 'Do I want that?'"
In addition to Schuck and Breazell -- who recently created a stir with his comments that D-11 should promote "stable, heterosexual, two-parent families" -- Gov. Bill Owens and Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera have endorsed Littleton. She is an educational specialist with iStation.com, an Internet-based education company.
A Republican appointment committee selected her to replace John Burnett, who stepped down for health reasons, in February.
For her part, Teja opposes vouchers in part because there is no guarantee that for-profit companies that go into the education business will put the funds back into schools. Profiteers, she said, have an incentive to extract what they can.
"It's a huge concern," she said.