When Al Loma and LuAnn Long take their seats Nov. 30 on the Colorado Springs School District 11 board, they'll bring points of view that have been absent as of late from the group.
They might even bring some fireworks.
As departing board president Tami Hasling notes, "There are some really strong personalities that will be on this board."
Expect Long to stand up for district employees. She's just wrapping up an 18-year career with the district that was highlighted by two recent stints as president of D-11's Educational Support Professionals. In that role, she advocated for many D-11 staffers, pushing for better pay.
Meanwhile, Loma, 49, — who doesn't have much in common politically with Long, 54 — is expected to push for solutions that more closely mirror private-sector practices: charter schools, teacher pay based on student performance, and looser rules about moving and firing teachers. The pastor of Victory Outreach Ministries helped start Space, Technology and Arts (STAR) Academy, a D-11 charter that opened in 2007. He still serves on the board for the school and plans to continue while serving on D-11's board.
For the most part, neither Loma nor Long are picking any fights. The two are meeting with their new colleagues, getting briefed on board rules and major issues. Long seems eager to dismiss any contention that her decision-making on the board will be governed by her past roles — she says her priority is the kids, not the staff.
But Loma has already begun softly rocking the proverbial boat. Besides staying on the STAR Academy board, he says he doesn't plan to recuse himself from D-11 votes on the STAR Academy. Legally, that's allowed, though as of press time Hasling was still investigating whether it would violate a district policy.
One thing is certain: Hasling doesn't approve.
"It seems to me that there would be a conflict," she says. "It's disturbing, to be honest with you."
Return to arms?
Major explosions have been largely absent from the D-11 board since 2006, when voters — ticked off by childish outbursts and arguments — booted conservative members Sandy Shakes and Eric Christen in a recall election. Craig Cox then resigned, leaving only Willie Breazell to champion the pro-voucher and charter cause.
But Breazell, who later lost his bid for re-election, got little traction among his relatively moderate colleagues: Hasling, John Gudvangen, Sandra Mann, Charlie Bobbitt, Jan Tanner and Tom Strand. The recall ushered in a time of cooperation, at least by D-11 standards, and in subsequent years the board was able to finalize long-delayed projects, most notably the closing of nine schools, boundary changes, budget cuts and massive reorganization.
Now, in a school year that both Strand and Tanner characterize as critical (mostly due to an expected 6 percent budget cut stemming from state trims), those quiet times may be coming to an end.
One of the first people to push Loma to run for school board has a familiar name.
"I said, 'Our ideas are very similar, but you know how to get them across in a softer way,'" remembers Breazell, who also serves on the STAR board.
Loma moved to Colorado Springs in 1996 and set up an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program in his basement. Having done the same work in Northern California, he was surprised how young the addicts were in the Springs — teens and 20-somethings. He was also shocked that so many of them couldn't read or write.
"You know, I came from the ghettos; I worked my way out of the ghettos," he says. "I understand the plight of the inner-city mind."
Loma's work translated into two other projects: Victory Outreach, which is largely run by former addicts, and STAR Academy, the charter school across the street (near the intersection of Airport Road and South Circle Drive) that he hopes might help local kids escape a future on the streets.
STAR has struggled academically. In 2008, the elementary portion of the current elementary-middle school combo, failed to make No Child Left Behind's required adequate yearly progress. Loma blames that problem on the traditional D-11 schools from which students are recruited.
Loma, father of five grown children, says the traditional school system reminds him of Qwest. Back when the phone company had no competition, their service stunk, he says, until competitors moved in. "They changed because there were external things happening saying, 'You better change,'" he says. "I saw the same thing happening with charters."
Ask current board members about their new colleagues, and you'll hear this statement over and over, "I don't know Al well at all, but I know LuAnn."
They've seen her at meetings. They know her as an employee, a parent, a grandparent. They've served on district committees with her. Like her or not, Long, who most recently worked setting schedules and doing employee training for D-11, is no mystery.
Long isn't into paying teachers based on kids' performance, an idea that's gaining ground in the district. She says, "It's very difficult to find a fair, equitable way to do pay for performance ... there's so many variables."
And she's not for charter schools unless they provide something to kids that traditional schools don't.
But Long bristles at the notion that her long history and past advocacy will make her stiff when working with other board members. In fact, she says, one of her top priorities is to create "synergy" with her colleagues.
"I think I can get along with this board just great," she says.