SANTA FE – Santa Fe school board members didn’t leave Saturday’s board retreat singing “Kumbaya,” but the four-hour session at the Hilton DoubleTree hotel was meant to bring the board into better harmony against the backdrop of what was identified by the meeting’s moderator as “continued perceptions of dysfunction.”
While board members acknowledged they had issues that needed to be worked out, no one said they felt like the board was at all ineffective or incapable of getting things done.
“We’re not a dysfunctional board at all,” said Rudy García, who didn’t get an argument from his colleagues.
Board president Steven Carrillo referred to the Santa Fe school board as “the envy of the state” and one willing to take a “deeper dive” into issues than other school boards are willing to take.
But delving into issues such as not accepting money from the National Rifle Association for the ROTC program and whether to allow the Santa Fe Fiesta Court into the schools can be “disorienting,” in the words of board member Kate Noble. And the perception of dysfunction is there, they admitted. So led by moderator Tim Karpoff, the board and superintendent Veronica García – no relation to Rudy – identified issues at the root of the problem and then tried to hash some of them out.
Part of the discussion centered around friction between the school board president Carrillo and superintendent García, which at times has surfaced during board meetings.
García said some of the tension has grown out of conversations Carrillo has with staff members. She said even a “casual mention” of something by Carrillo may be perceived as a directive by a staff member.
“It’s not that I want to be a control freak,” she said to Carrillo. “I don’t think you realize how much power you have.”
Carrillo said that, on the flip side, García has “instilled fear” with staff about talking to board members.
“Whether or not you intended it, you have instilled fear in people about coming to a board member. It’s important for them to know they are able to come to us,” he said.
“What I have said to staff is ‘do not take direction from a board member’ … I have never said ‘don’t talk to a board member,’ ” García replied, offering to take a lie detector test.
The often boisterous Carrillo can come off as rude, which may also contribute to the appearance of dysfunction. He said that what board member Lorraine Price, who was not present at the retreat, once described as a verbal “attack” was really just him asking questions during a robust debate of an issue.
Board member Maureen Cashmon said she thought each board member’s passion for what they do and the issues they believe in was both a strength and a weakness of the board. It’s great that they have passionate board members, but “that can cause conflict,” she said. “And it’s hard to have these things aired in public and not feel like you’re being attacked.”
The board and superintendent also talked about how the impact of turnover among board members – and some board members’ interest in pursuing political office – has created public distrust and contributed to the perception of dysfunction.
Noble announced her candidacy for mayor several months after joining the school board last year.
Rudy Garcia, who last year replaced Linda Trujillo after she stepped down to focus on her duties as a member of the state House of Representatives, is now a candidate for county commissioner.