School substitutes 

Five candidates will vie to replace School District 11 recall targets

click to enlarge Eric Christen is facing a recall. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • Eric Christen is facing a recall.

Albert Gonzales will soon face an old nemesis.

The retired Qwest contract manager is one of three individuals who will appear on the School District 11 recall ballot to replace Eric Christen if the contentious board member is ousted. In 2003, Gonzales was defeated by "school choice" advocates Christen, Sandy Shakes, Craig Cox and Willie Breazell in the election that fomented infighting in the board.

He chose to replace Christen in part because he believes the director known for his inflammatory anti-public school statements is more likely to be voted out than Shakes, who is concurrently facing a recall.

"I am not against reforming," says Gonzales, referring to the buzzword for change in the district. "I would just like to know what we are reforming to."

The recall, which was initiated by a group called "End the D-11 Chaos," will be put to voters via a mail-in ballot in mid- to late November and will end on Dec. 12. If D-11 voters choose "yes" on the recall, they will also be able to select Gonzales, Gregory Garcia or Charles Bobbitt to replace Christen. Shakes could be replaced by Jan Tanner or Don Schley.

Garcia, a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch, has lived in the district for seven years. He served on the board of Saint Mary's, a local private Catholic high school, until 2005. Planning to raise around $30,000 for his campaign, he says he will use his financial knowledge to help steer the board.

click to enlarge End the D-11 Chaos leaders Norvell Simpson, Annie - Oatman-Gardner and Mary Ellen McNally. - FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo
  • End the D-11 Chaos leaders Norvell Simpson, Annie Oatman-Gardner and Mary Ellen McNally.

Bobbitt, a Colorado Springs native, has served on several D-11 committees, including the district accountability group. An insurance salesman who graduated from a D-11 school, he says he will address graduation rates and school security.

Tanner circulated petitions with the "End the D-11 Chaos" group over the summer to prompt the recall. She has lived in the district for 24 years and replaced Christen as the school board's citizen treasurer in 2004. Christen, she says, has agitated for her removal since April, most recently at a Sept. 27 board meeting.

As director, she says, she would hope to move the board, known for its heated 4-3 vote to fire Superintendent Sharon Thomas in June, toward group-wide agreement.

"I don't think it is fair to make huge changes without a consensus," says Tanner, who is also the treasurer for former board member Karen Teja's campaign for the Colorado Legislature.

Schley is a founding member of the Citizens Education Network, a group that hosts education debates in Colorado Springs. He also spoke publicly in favor of ousting Thomas. Schley did not return phone calls seeking comment by deadline.

Since "End the District 11 Chaos" is an issue committee, it cannot endorse candidates to replace the recall targets. Organizer Annie Oatman-Gardner says the group, which she organized with former school board members Mary Ellen McNally and Norvell Simpson, plans to raise $15,000 to $20,000 for a "Vote Yes on the Recall" campaign. It also will spearhead the formation of a separate organization to stump for replacement candidates.

Oatman-Gardner doesn't doubt that the recall will prevail.

"We don't feel like we have to persuade people about the issue," she says. "Eric [Christen] has done such a good job of that himself."


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