Delay yes, but not for too long
A Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education vote on what to do with midtown public elementary schools was delayed this week — something we support. However, a delay should not become an excuse to do nothing.
With student enrollment stagnant or declining — except on the south side — the district is in the difficult position of having students where it lacks buildings and schools where it lacks students. We counseled delay on a vote to possibly close some schools and move another so that more of the community can become involved.
At stake are the futures of both E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools, the location of Turquoise Trail Charter Elementary School and the potential rebuilding of Chaparral Elementary School. The plan — as sketched out but not approved — basically called for rebuilding Chaparral, closing E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools, moving Turquoise Trail from south of town (likely to E.J. Martinez) and repurposing Nava. A final decision was postponed, but the reckoning needs to happen.
First things first. Sort out the board of education. It is a five-person board, only not lately. One board member, Lorraine Price, has been ill and unable to attend meetings. She hasn’t attended in person since March. We want her to take care of herself and encourage her to take a break from public service so she can concentrate on her well-being. Then, the board can appoint a new member so that it is operating at full speed to make these tough decisions.
That leads us to board member Rudy Garcia, appointed late last year to fill the seat vacated by state Rep. Linda Trujillo. She resigned after winning higher office. Now, Garcia is running for Santa Fe County Board of County Commissioners. (Board member Kate Noble also ran for a different office, for mayor — notice a pattern?)
Should Garcia be elected next week, he will have to decide whether to keep both seats or resign from the Board of Education. Considering that board meetings and meetings of the County Commission take place on Tuesdays, we believe he should quit if elected. That means the board would have to appoint yet another replacement, someone who can get up to speed quickly.
Still to be decided this month is any decision on Superintendent Veronica García and how much longer she wants to work — remember, García started as an interim replacement for departing Superintendent Joel Boyd and was hired permanently. She might be ready to begin winding down her career. That’s an important discussion and decision.
All of that done, then it will be time to discuss the future of midtown schools, but it’s a debate that should not be put off until spring. For one thing, board elections will happen in November 2019.
If the Board of Education and district officials can make decisions in the fall, the election could serve to make sure citizens back the moves.
A fall or early winter decision gives the board time to place the consolidation of schools in broader context. Will the district rezone students; are other school buildings also in need of great repair; and how many schools does Santa Fe need — across the district — to serve students comfortably? Give more information, in other words.
Board Vice President Maureen Cashmon is correct that schools deserve certainty. We also believe that if closing schools is not backed by a majority of a board, then it will be time to move on to other solutions for the district. This continual close/don’t close cycle is hardly fair to students, parents or faculty and staff.
So, whip the board into shape, gather more information and prepare to make a decision. A full and functioning board will make all of that easier.