SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García will get an $11,000 raise and another year added to her contract.
The school board on Monday voted 4-1 to approve a new contract for García that will pay her $195,700 a year through June 30, 2021, a year longer than her current contract. García is currently making $184,500.
Board member Steven Carrillo cast the lone vote against the contract, saying the board didn’t have enough information to make a decision without the latest proficiency scores from the state Public Education Department. He first tried to table the decision until after proficiency scores became available, but his motion to do so died for lack of a second.
Carrillo said making a decision without proficiency scores would be like a corporate board approving a CEO’s contract without a profit and loss statement, or considering a sports coach’s contract without knowing a team’s win-loss record.
He said he recently learned from Santa Fe Community College that 75 to 80% of Santa Fe students that enroll at the college need to take remedial classes.
Carrillo said the school district has a lot to be proud of. “But on the whole are we meeting our mandate, if you will, as a board and as a district to educate our kids?” he asked. “My answer is no — that there’s a systemic failure to educate our kids so that they are college ready and career ready.”
Board president Kate Noble, and other members of the board, had nothing but praise for the job García has done since she came on board in 2016.
Countering Carrillo’s argument, she said that improvements on student test scores have shown statistically significant improvements, that the release of proficiency data by PED is out of their control and that most districts address the superintendent’s contract as early as February of each year.
“I believe that this is responsible to our community and to our staff to provide stability,” she said of approving García’s contract now, rather than wait.
García thanked each board member besides Carrillo for their support and confidence in her.
“I have no problem being accountable, but I also want to be treated fairly,” she said, adding that she’s proud of the work she’s done. “I love this community. I love the teachers, the students, the parents. I love the district staff — my team. And I enjoy working with this board very much.”
Prior to the board taking a vote, García received praise from Grace Mayer, the president of NEA-Santa Fe, the union that represents most teachers in Santa Fe, saying she had followed through on promises and has improved morale among district employees.
Late last year, García was criticized by the former head of the Public Education Department last year after more than half of the district’s 30 schools received either a D or F on grades issued by PED and the district as a whole dropped from a C to a D.
PED director Christopher Ruszkowski singled out SFPS is a news release announcing the grades and told the Santa Fe New Mexican at the time that Santa Fe was a “district in crisis” and that “you have to look at the superintendent” as the possible cause for the district’s poor performance.
García, who was appointed the state’s first secretary of education by then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, in 2003, told the Journal that Ruszkowski, appointed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, was playing “politics” and retaliating against her for public comments she made following a landmark court ruling that determined the state was violating the constitutional rights of “at-risk” students.
While school grades fell last year, graduation rates went up. The most recent data shows SFPS with a 73% graduation rate for the Class of 2018 (just below the state average), up from 68.9% the year before.
García said during her State of the Schools address in November that she’d eat her hat if Santa Fe didn’t have a breakthrough year because of action the district has taken to improve standards-based instruction and professional development for teachers.
García was hired in 2016 as a temporary replacement after Joel Boyd left the school district but soon was offered the job full time.
It’s her second stint with as superintendent in Santa Fe, having served in the role from 1999 to 2002. She left the district to become Secretary of Education and served in that roll until Martinez was elected in 2010. She was executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which works for equity and to improve conditions for children in the areas of economic security, health and education, prior to returning to SFPS.
In addition to approving García’s contract, the board approved a collective bargaining agreement with NEA-Santa Fe, which Mayer said averaged about a 9% increase for most employees.