SANTA FE – The majority of Santa Fe school board members expressed their thoughts about how to address the problem of declining enrollment and aging schools in need of repair. But the board could not reach majority consensus about whether to commit not to take steps to close three of the school district’s elementary schools.
After close to two hours of discussion that included input from community members Tuesday night, board member Steven Carrillo made a motion to stop considering closure of Acequia Madre, E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools. But the motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with board secretary Rudy Garcia absent from the meeting.
No explanation was given as to why Garcia, who has missed several meetings this year, wasn’t present.
Carrillo was joined by board President Kate Noble in voting “yes,” though Noble said before the board took action that she didn’t think it would be a “realistic and meaningful” vote without Garcia.
Maureen Cashmon and Lorraine Price, the board’s vice president, voted “no.”
Price didn’t contribute much to the hourslong discussion, but she said at the time she cast her vote that she has been fighting “de facto segregation” since she joined the school district as a teacher in 1989. She said she would have a statement about her position when the board addressed the matter again at its Nov. 6 meeting.
The other three members of the board present shared their ideas about the best way to proceed at some length.
Cashmon, who expressed frustration over the board’s indecision over closing or consolidating schools in the past, said now is the time to start planning to close some schools. The district’s resources are spread too thin, she said, and debates in recent years about closing schools or consolidating them have created conflict among school communities.
“I’m asking that we don’t keep putting our community through emotional turmoil,” she said. “We were elected to do a job. Now is the time to do it.”
Carrillo agreed that the board should act soon. But he said he thought the board could reach a conclusion by January after holding two study sessions and two public forums.
Noble preferred that the board take time before making a decision. She proposed that a task force be formed to oversee a professional team to research what other similarly situated school boards around the country have done to transform their districts, conduct an extensive community survey, and lead a community engagement process.
Noble also suggested the city could be a partner in the effort to address the problem and brought up the idea of busing students.
“We have to think about busing, because that is one of the barriers,” she said, adding that the school district and city have enough buses to make it work. “We have to break down the barrier of transportation.”
The board is united in its effort to address inequities within the district, along with the loss of state funding due to declining enrollment and the phasing out of a small school funding adjustment provided by the state.
Santa Fe Public Schools has had a decline in enrollment from nearly 14,500 students five years ago to about 13,000 students this year.