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Questa Hearing Called ‘Show’

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TAOS — Members of a fractured school board for the Questa Independent School District defended themselves from allegations that resulted in the board’s suspension in September, while one member called the hearing here Monday a “dog and pony show.”

Charges cited against the board in the Public Education Department’s notice of suspension included bullying and intimidating school employees, physical altercations with fellow board members and violating the Open Meetings Act by discussing alleged immoral behavior by a former superintendent during an executive session.

The allegations were raised during a PED hearing Monday to help determine whether the Questa school board should be reinstated.

State Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera suspended the entire board on Sept. 18 after the PED conducted an investigation into the allegations. She also cited a persistent 3-3 voting split on the board, preventing the district from conducting business.

The hearing was originally scheduled for last month but was postponed when attorneys representing the school board backed out just days before the hearing. Attorney John Kennedy of Santa Fe declined to say why he no longer represented the school board, citing attorney-client privilege.

That left board members without legal counsel.

The split on the board was evident, with the board members who were subjects of the complaints — Tammy Jaramillo, Daryl Ortega and Matt Ortega — sitting together at one end of the table. The other three members — Jack Gallegos, Kenneth Gallegos and Bernie Torres — were at the other end, and did not participate in the questioning or cross examination of witnesses.

Torres, however, was called upon to testify by Albert Gonzales, deputy general counsel with PED.

During cross examination, Daryl Ortega asked Torres why he didn’t allow the board to hire another attorney to take Kennedy’s place.

“We can’t even say hello at board meetings — how could we agree on an attorney?” Torres replied.

Moments earlier, Ortega implied the lack of counsel put the board at a disadvantage, likening it to a match between a professional boxer, meaning PED attorneys, and an amateur.

Later, while Ortega was questioning another witness, hearing officer G.T.S. Khalsa stopped him, saying his questioning was beyond the scope of the witness’ testimony. Ortega said the denial was another example of “railroading.”

Ortega then asked whether Beason thought it would have been better for Skandera to simply appoint a seventh member to the board after one member resigned, “instead of holding this dog-and-pony show.”

Several people added input during a public comment period. A few spoke in favor of the board members, but most said it would be best to keep the board under suspension at least until upcoming school board elections. On Feb. 5, four board positions will be up for grabs, including those of Daryl Ortega, Matt Ortega, Torres and the vacant seat.

One person who felt that way was Ariana Gallegos, a sophomore at Questa High School. She said she’s attended school board meetings and witnessed unprofessional behavior.

“Our parents taught us to be respectful. To see that kind of behavior coming from adults is pretty disappointing,” she said.

She noted that the school motto was “Where children come first.”

“For us to not feel that way is pretty sad,” she said.

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