How many times can Eric Christen tearfully – and hollowly – resign as a board member overseeing Colorado Springs’ largest school district before voters finally oust him?And how many more photographs of Christen-sans-shirt will we have to endure before he realizes that it is really way more appropriate for school board members to appear fully dressed pretty much at all times?
These are just two questions that parents and teachers and voters are pondering as they head into the final stretch of what has been a thoroughly messy and drama-filled upcoming Dec. 12 recall election directed at Christen – who for all of his threats to quit (is it four or five, or six times now?) refuses to actually leave. Sandy Shakes, the past board president who can’t seem to figure out who to align herself with, is also targeted for recall.
Christen’s contradictions, and his angry outbursts, underscore the madness that has for the past three years permeated an increasingly urban school district of 30,000 students.
An aspiring model whose last-known day job is to bust unions in California, Christen does not believe that government should be involved in public education, which he has publicly proclaimed. Propped up by school voucher big money interests, he was elected in 2003 to the seven-member District 11 Board of Education anyway.
He, along with three others who call themselves “reformers,” seized the board majority; their sorts of reforms, however, caught the public by surprise.
Turns out “reform” translates to trying to obliterate the teachers’ union.
Reform means trying to secretly install school vouchers, with the help of a team of privately-paid consultants.
Reform translates to attempts to operate in utter secrecy, making decisions that affect the public school district, illegally at times, behind closed doors.
Reform means kicking Planned Parenthood out of the schools.
Turns out reform means acting like a schoolyard bully, ala Christen, or, in the case of board member Shakes, trying to exact revenge when things don’t go your way.
In June, after a majority of the board summarily fired its superintendent of a year, and handing her a $400,000 golden parachute, a group of community activists had enough. They gathered enough signatures to force a recall of Christen and Shakes. The ballots have gone out for the Dec. 12 mail election.
In his latest apparent effort to portray himself as a real human being, Christen set up a website all about, well, all about Eric. He can’t seem to help it. There’s lots of photos: Eric the Model (including the above photo, as well as a selection of other bulging pecs pics), Eric and his wife on the North Shore of Hawaii, Eric’s young son “Worshiping the Lord at school,” Eric on the school track team and Eric when he was… well, you get the picture. There’s a link to his blog site, called Barbarians at the Gate. There’s a link to Eric’s views, and his political history, and his personal history (according to him).
For her part, Shakes is lately laying low. But last week Christen announced, at a public forum, that he was quitting the school board, just in time for the voters to recall him in the $300,000 election. It’s at least the fourth time he has said he would quit – the first being immediately after he was elected. As Christen has not yet formally submitted his actual resignation to the board, recall organizers are calling it just one more of his publicity stunts.
Here’s a snippet from his letter:
“Right or wrong I have become a lightening rod and a distraction from the important issues facing our education system. The defenders of the status quo want to make this about my ‘personality’ and private emails I have sent to board members. They have left me phone messages that would make a sailor blush, sent me feces in the mail, and, most disgustingly, drug [sic] my family into their petty fight.”
Cara DeGette is a longtime editor and columnist at the Colorado Springs Independent.