Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The upcoming Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education election has attracted the attention of an influential local commercial real estate group.
The New Mexico chapter of NAIOP’s political action committee is backing three candidates for the four open Board of Education seats on the Nov. 2 ballot, the first time the organization has backed so many APS candidates in one election.
The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce does not have a PAC, but is urging its members to support the same three candidates as NAIOP, plus one in the fourth open seat.
Meanwhile, the powerful Albuquerque Teachers Federation – which endorsed six of the current seven board members – is throwing its support behind an entirely different slate of candidates.
The election could have major ramifications for the state’s largest school district.
No incumbents are seeking reelection in any of this year’s Albuquerque school board races, which means more than half of the Board of Education will soon be comprised of newly elected individuals.
NAIOP’s PAC is supporting Danielle Gonzales for District 3, Crystal Tapia-Romero for District 5 and Courtney Jackson for District 7.
The chamber is supporting the same three plus Arthur Carrasco for District 6.
“The business community is certainly hoping that we elect school board members who will set meaningful academic goals for the district, ensure education dollars are spent in the classroom, and put student learning first in their decision-making,” said Chamber President and CEO Terri Cole.
The Albuquerque Teachers Federation is endorsing Jinx Baskerville in District 3, Uche Ohiri in District 5, Josefina Elizabet Dominguez in District 6 and Julie Brenning in District 7. Those seats are currently held by outgoing board members Lorenzo Garcia, Candelaria Patterson, Elizabeth Armijo and board President David Peercy, respectively.
In total, 13 candidates are vying for four open seats.
• District 3 has drawn four candidates: Baskerville, Ali Ennenga, Lucas Stephen Gauthier and Gonzales.
• In District 5, Emma Jean Jones, Ohiri and Tapia-Romero are competing.
• District 6 has three candidates: Dominguez, Carrasco and Celia Cortez.
• And District 7 also has three candidates: Nicholas Dale Bevins, Brenning and Jackson.
Lynne Andersen, president of NAIOP New Mexico, said the group’s PAC does not formally endorse candidates, but does support candidates through financial contributions. She said the group was motivated to support several candidates after numerous members voiced concerns about the current school board’s handling of the pandemic and the state’s poor education rankings.
“Education is crucial to economic development, and that’s one key thing that NAIOP is interested in is that there are good jobs and strong economic development,” Andersen said.
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she can’t remember the last time this many seats on the board have been open with no incumbents seeking reelection.
She said serving on the board is a big commitment and incoming members will have to contend with challenges like balancing the budget in addition to pandemic-related issues around masking and vaccines.
“We are very dedicated to making sure people get elected to the board who want to protect and preserve public education, who want to support the employees who work with our students and who want to move the district forward in terms of how we provide education for students,” Bernstein said.
She said that the endorsed slate comes from a diverse set of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, too.
Two of the endorsed candidates, Baskerville and Dominguez, are former APS educators, while Ohiri has legal and medical experience and Brenning has policy and research experience.
NAIOP PAC member Lance Sigmon said NAIOP members expressed more frustration this year toward the school board than he has seen in the past. Much of that frustration stems from parents who had to choose between staying home with children for remote working and going into work, he said.
Sigmon said the drastic changes in education due to the pandemic caused some members to begin attending virtual school board meetings and those members felt that current school board members did not understand what it was like for parents navigating remote schooling.
Andersen said the organization would like to see APS operate with “a good strategic plan based on solid budgets, which does not always seem to be apparent, at least from the outside looking in.”
NAIOP has about 300 members of the commercial real estate industry. The organization hosts monthly luncheons, operates a political action committee and lobbies government officials on behalf of the commercial real estate industry.
Andersen said this is the first time the group’s PAC has backed this many Board of Education candidates in a single election. She said the decision to back several candidates was prompted by interest from NAIOP members – many of whom are parents with children enrolled at APS.
Each of the candidates the NAIOP PAC is endorsing have backgrounds related to education, are parents and have graduated from APS schools.
Sigmon said the election gives the city a chance to “correct course” in terms of education and larger societal issues like crime.
“Education has always kind of been a fundamental belief of NAIOP,” he said. “We have a vested interest in education because we want wonderful employees and we want our children to stay here and not just get educated and leave.”
Meanwhile, APS board president Peercy, who is also endorsing Brenning, said he is not seeking reelection because he thinks it’s time for the board to have new members.
However, Peercy said he will stay around after the election to help with the transition period and train the new members.
He said he hopes the new members of the board will support masking in schools and vaccinations for the coronavirus.