Shame on the Gazette for casting aspersions on the motivations of longtime civic leaders Mary Ellen McNally and Ann Oatman-Gardner in last Sunday's spiteful editorial ("D-11 recall backers have suspect motives," Metro, p. 8).
Instead of focusing on relevant issues, the Gazette resorted to cheap ad hominem attacks, calling those seeking to recall D-11 school board members Sandy Shakes and Eric Christen "union apparatchiks" and "left-wing activists."
About the only thing the Gazette's editorial got right is that McNally and Oatman-Gardner are "no ordinary citizens." Unlike the recent arrivals to our community who control the Gazette's editorial page, these two women not only have a long history of actively serving our fast-changing and complex community, but also have spent countless hours volunteering in D-11.
Let's start with McNally, a former school teacher, D-11 school board member (1981-85) and Colorado Springs city councilwoman (1985-89). McNally has been civically engaged in our community for more than four decades. She knows what she is talking about, having served on dozens of community boards, ranging from those of the American National Bank to the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross; from Cheyenne Village to the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation; from the Memorial Hospital Foundation to the Edison Charter School, where she is a trustee.
If you enjoy living in our community, then thank McNally, along with a handful of other notable women including Nancy Lewis, Kathy Loo, Marcy Morrison, Mary Lou Makepeace and Ann Oatman-Gardner.
Among other accomplishments, Oatman-Gardner served as campaign manager for the first successful Trails Open Space and Parks (TOPS) ballot initiative a measure the Gazette editorialized against 21 times. She also served as campaign manager for Richard Skorman's successful run for City Council and has been active in a host of other civic endeavors, including helping develop a public-private partnership to build a much-needed park at D-11's Taylor Elementary School.
The Gazette editorial team is just plain pathetic when it states that McNally and Oatman-Gardner do not have"a sincere concern for students." Compare McNally and Oatman-Gardner's combined 70-plus-year track record of service to our community with those of the Gazette's editorial page editor Sean Paige, and Paige's boss, publisher Bob Burdick, neither of whom has been in our community for more than four years.
Now for the recall
A recall of elected officials should be a course of last resort. But let's face facts. Our dysfunctional D-11 school board has wasted millions of dollars. Far more importantly, it has reduced the educational opportunities for 30,000-plus students.
Recall target Sandy Shakes not only encouraged Sharon Thomas to apply for the D-11 superintendent position, but also actively championed her hiring during the six-month selection process. As then-chair of the school board, Shakes cast the deciding vote to hire Thomas. A year later, Shakes cast the deciding vote to fire her. Shakes also endorsed the large severance package that Thomas understandably sought before agreeing to relocate from Minnesota to take a job offered by a very divided and divisive school board.
Shakes has also undertaken a variety of questionable actions. For example, in March, she proposed to the district that it retain her recently formed company to start a teacher-training program. When questioned about the ethics of such a proposition, Shakes stated that she would be willing to resign her board seat if awarded the contract. Such convoluted actions create the appearance of significant conflict of interest. Shakes also serves as a per diem sales consultant for Prentice Hall, while the schoolbook publisher actively seeks business from D-11.
The other recall target is Eric Christen, an ideologue and bully. With the backing of wealthy voucher supporters, Christen gained a seat on the D-11 school board in 2003, shortly after moving to Colorado Springs.
Within six months of his election, Christen wrote to his supporters that "this district [D-11] can expect a guerilla warfare campaign unlike anything they have ever seen by those who are exceedingly proficient at it."
Christen supports the demise of public education. He has even signed an online pledge with the California-based organization Alliance for the Separation of School & State that reads, "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education." The other volunteers serving on the D-11 board will never succeed with one board member actively employing "guerilla warfare tactics" to intentionally format discord.
Christen, who has served probation due to a road-rage incident in Oregon, uses his bully pulpit to intentionally foment discord. He also has been a plain, outright bully.
To cite just one of numerous examples, on Election Day 2004, Christen planted campaign signs in the North Middle School grounds, a clear violation of D-11 policy. When asked to remove the signs, Christen threatened to have the employee making the request terminated. The D-11 board has issued a formal reprimand of Christen, citing, among other things, his behavior that day.
So long as the two most dysfunctional board members continue to control the balance of power in the Pikes Peak region's largest school district, there is no hope in sight. It is time for the community to stand up to wealthy ideologues hellbent on promoting vouchers no matter what the consequences.
Waiting for the next regular election means that D-11 will remain in chaos until new board members are empowered in early 2008. Our children deserve better. We must act swiftly to re-establish stability in the leadership that controls the educational opportunities of more than 30,000 local children.
Who writes the Gazette's editorials?
Before coming to Colorado Springs in 2002, TheGazette's editorial page editor Sean Paige worked as:
a columnist for the Washington Times, the conservative daily owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who calls himself the "Christ of the Second Advent."
editorial director at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an organization that postures itself as an advocate of "sound science," but according to PR Watch is "an ideologically driven, well-funded front for corporations opposed to safety and environmental regulations that affect the way they do business."
press secretary for "Alan Keyes for Senate" in 1992. During his Senate run, Keyes pocketed $100,000 of his own campaign contributions. At the time, Keyes stated: "That money was for working eight- to 12-hour days it was not a welfare check." Keyes also has stated that homosexuality is "the unbridled sort of satisfaction of human passions [that] leads to totalitarianism, Nazism and communism."
To read the Gazette's editorial:
"D-11 recall backers have suspect motives"
gazette.com/display.php?id=1318315&secid=13 until this Sunday.
To read more about Sandy Shakes, Eric Christen and Sean Paige:
"Excitable boy," Colorado Springs Independent
"Radical agenda," Colorado Springs Independent
"Eric Christen's greatest hits," Colorado Springs Independent
"New District 11 board begins work," KRCC 91.5 FM
westernskies.krcc.org/transcripts/ 11-22-2005/WS_11222005_A.html - 12k "
"All shook up," Colorado Springs Independent
"The 2003 election dream machine," Colorado Springs Independent
"Meet Sean Paige," Colorado Springs Independent