Throughout the state and nation, we repeatedly hear that there's a lack of committed candidates for school boards. Whether it's because of a tough economy stretching folks to the max or just plain apathy, many districts are suffering a dearth of willing participants.
But that's definitely not the case for Colorado Springs School District 11, this region's largest. With four available seats on this mail ballot, D-11 has eight impressive choices. (There were nine, but Larry Winter withdrew late.)
Honestly, we could make a case for any of them.
We applaud each of these individuals for their desire to serve, without any compensation, a district with almost 30,000 students during a time of severe budget challenges and tough economic burdens. More than half of D-11's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and that number has been steadily rising the past few years, creating its own set of problems.
Often, incumbents get an inside track in elections, since they can draw on their knowledge and perspective. But current board president Tom Strand chose not to pursue a second term, despite having brought stability and ability to the board. And we've decided not to endorse incumbent Bob Null, who recently told the Independent that "some of us are more conservative and some are more liberal, and I am hoping that we get more conservatives."
This is not about political philosophy. It's about identifying the best nonpartisan candidates.
So we'll be endorsing only one incumbent, and three others with fresh ideas, perspectives and energy. Here are all four, those we feel are most deserving of your support:
• Jan Tanner. She's been a strong D-11 board member for five years and understands how limited the belt-tightening options are. She'd help guide the board through a final term, thanks to extensive professional accounting experience as well as her service with local and state levels of PTAs, the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments' sustainability committee.
• Elaine Naleski. We weren't sure about backing someone just retired from D-11 administration, though her work the past 13 years as communications director was solid. But Naleski stands out, beginning with her outspokenness about the need to better involve the community, both the general public and business and civic leaders (most of whom she already knows). We like her realistic stances on accountability and budgeting, as well as tackling the problem of decreasing enrollment. She'll be able to hit the ground running, and that's important. No learning curve for her.
• Nora Brown. School boards need different kinds of members, and Brown brings many years of volunteer experience inside the classroom as well as at the district level, with the audit committee and D-11's foundation. She's also been heavily involved with the Girl Scouts and the Humane Society. Add to that her MBA degree with experience in human resources, finances and information systems, and she'd be a great addition.
• Jim Mason. After a high-achieving Army career as brigade and battalion commander, plus other executive positions, he has worked for a defense contractor and developed into a dedicated community volunteer. He chairs D-11's accountability committee and budget subcommittee, so he already knows much about the district's operations, and he's involved with the African American Youth Leadership Conference. Mason is also committed to empowering teachers and principals.