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Albuquerque election blow to teacher’s union, victory to biz

November 4, 2021 GMT
A sign directs voters to the entrance of a polling station at the St. John's United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Voters cast ballots in municipal elections across the state, including for mayoral races and school funding measures. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A sign directs voters to the entrance of a polling station at the St. John's United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Voters cast ballots in municipal elections across the state, including for mayoral races and school funding measures. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A sign directs voters to the entrance of a polling station at the St. John's United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Voters cast ballots in municipal elections across the state, including for mayoral races and school funding measures. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A sign directs voters to the entrance of a polling station at the St. John's United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Voters cast ballots in municipal elections across the state, including for mayoral races and school funding measures. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
A sign directs voters to the entrance of a polling station at the St. John's United Methodist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Voters cast ballots in municipal elections across the state, including for mayoral races and school funding measures. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The teachers union in New Mexico’s largest city will have fewer friends on the school board next year, after three board candidates won Tuesday’s election without union support.

Early election results indicate three out of four school board seats were won by candidates funded by business groups, not the teachers union, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

“There’s going to be a new dynamic on the board. We will see if the board is split on important issues, especially those issues that have to do with the interests of their employees,” said Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein.

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Albuquerque Public Schools is the largest district in the state, serving around 74,000 students, about 20% of the children in New Mexico. It operates a $1.6 billion budget and a full-time staff of around 12,600 workers.

Municipal elections across the state Tuesday determined school board elections and mayoral contests. Voters in the vast majority of towns approved property taxes and bonds to pay for schools, including some $630 million for Albuquerque schools.

The non-union candidates received funding from business groups including NAIOP the Commercial Real Estate Development Association and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The races are nonpartisan and don’t have primaries.

“The board of education should be the kid’s union,” said Republican Courtney Jackson, a stay-at-home mom and school PTA leader.

Jackson said teacher interests are important, but was incensed by school board meetings this spring that downplayed student needs and delayed school reopenings. “Their interests were not brought up once, even after the state government said it was safe to go back to school.”

Business groups played a large role in helping candidates like Jackson campaign, while state GOP involvement was minimal. Democrat Danielle Gonzales, a nonprofit manager, relied on the same groups. So did Crystal Tapia-Romero, a child care center owner who isn’t registered with a political party.

“NAIOP has been wonderful with me. The teachers union, not so much,” said Tapia-Romero. “But I look forward to working with them.”

One union candidate did win: Democrat Josefina Dominguez, a retired teacher. She attributed the losses of her colleagues to a change in election timing that allowed for more turnout, as well as an influx of money from groups like NAIOP which backed more candidates than in the past.

“I take the long-term look. I think in the end, more participation is good. In this particular case. It costs the union its slate,” Dominguez said.

As a group focused on commercial real estate, NAIOP draws members from across the building profession, such as brokers, architects, and engineers. It’s in the group’s interest to promote good schools, to attract businesses and professionals from out of state.

But the group says members wouldn’t have gotten involved if not for a frustrating pandemic school year, and a corruption scandal involving a state legislator and school administrator.

“They all had kids in public school here. So it was just wanting more transparency, wanting more strategic goals, wanting you know, more ability to have a voice as a parent,” said New Mexico NAIOP President Lynne Andersen.

Andersen and Dominguez share a common idea for sweeping education reform.

Both want to see trade apprenticeships become more common in an education system they believe has focused almost exclusively on college preparation.

“We, as a nation I think tend to denigrate the trades. And I think it’s a disservice to our kids,” Anderson said.

“The placing of students with the trades to learn plumbing or electrical work, or, you know, carpentry I would love to see that expanded to our neighborhood schools,” Dominguez said.

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This article has been corrected to reflect that NAIOP has backed school board candidates in the past, just not as many as this year, and to correct the title of the people who sell commercial real estate; they are brokers, not real estate agents.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.