The current calm in the race for three directors' seats in Colorado Springs' largest school district is just an illusion, said numerous attendees at a regional school board candidate's conference last weekend.
The knock-down drag-out bloodbath in District 11, they said, is sure to come in the days leading up to the November election.
"Beware the stealth candidates," advised Falcon School District 49 president Paul Bryant, a panelist at the event hosted by the El Pomar Foundation and the Colorado Association of School Boards.
"There will be candidates who will not announce. They will [post their candidacy] at the last minute," he said, adding that their secretive campaigning organizations will be "operating in the dark."
The build up to and secrecy surrounding the election stems from months of chaos on the D-11 Board of Directors. Three men representing a highly organized and well-financed campaign to assert vouchers and charter schools have pitted themselves against other directors who claim to defend the district against a privatization onslaught.
All over but the shouting
In November 2003, supported by heavy funding from voucher proponents Steve Schuck of Colorado Springs and Alex Cranberg of Denver, four supposedly pro-privatization candidates, Willie Breazell, Eric Christen, Craig Cox and Sandra Shakes, were elected. This formed a majority slate on the seven-member board.
But Shakes defected from the fold over a voucher issue a year ago, and business since has disintegrated into trench warfare, with meetings frequently dissolving into shouting matches.
Breazell, Christen and Cox need just one more director to form a new majority on the board, something Christen frequently has called inevitable.
D-11 candidate Tammra Hasling knows about secret operations. When the state Parent-Teacher Association official became the first to announce months ago, she immediately found herself the subject of a letter sent to some school district residents from a shadowy group calling itself the "Committee to Keep Irrational and Unbalanced Defenders of the Status Quo Away From Our Students."
"I take it as a good sign, that I'm obviously threatening," Hasling said.
Another candidate, Sandra Mann, an Adelphia Communications Corp. spokeswoman, joined Hasling at last weekend's conference.
"I want to stop the chaos that's been going on," Mann said. "Right now nothing is getting done on behalf of the children."
Too busy to comment
Both women, however, remain perplexed about the lack of visible private-choice candidates. "Steve Schuck made a promise to spend $1 million on [this] campaign," Hasling said. "To not see anyone strikes me as odd. Maybe they can't find anyone."
Schuck could not be reached for comment on his financial intentions for this year's race.
The El Paso County clerk and recorder lists Hasling, Mann and three other candidates for the volatile board: local businessman Adam Leech, Colorado College administrator John Gudvangen and a recently added and relatively unknown candidate named Robert Lathen.
Reached by telephone, Lathen said he was too busy to comment on his candidacy and did not return subsequent phone calls. However, a few facts may point to his emergence as private-choice champion.
In a June letter to the Gazette, Lathen asked "whether traditional public schools are meeting the needs and expectations of the students and their parents," and then wrote that, "for black students in Denver and Latino students in Pueblo, the answer is a resounding no."
Whether he emerges as the prime private-choice candidate to join the fractious D-11 board remains to be seen.
-- Dan Wilcock
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