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Santa Fe schools may close for budget ‘action’

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools is considering closing schools on Thursday in favor of a “Day of Action” at the Roundhouse to encourage lawmakers to reach a compromise on the state budget so that funding is not cut for public education, an idea the Governor’s Office called “a political stunt” that would shortchange students.

SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia

SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia

SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia said at a news conference that other options would be considered, including closing schools after lunch or holding a rally after the school day. She said a decision would be made by 11 a.m. today. She noted that there are just a few days left in the legislative session, which ends Saturday.

“It’s really a last resort type of effort,” said Garcia, who added that any decision to cancel classes would not be taken lightly.

Garcia said SFPS is facing a $5.5 million shortfall. That could mean the loss of 80 jobs, pay cuts, larger class sizes, cuts to music, arts and athletic programs, and the loss of 15 school days.

“The impacts are dire to our students,” she said. “We are asking for compromise between the Legislature and the governor to fully fund schools.”

Garcia, secretary of education during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, said funding for schools is a nonpartisan issue. “Put them (students) first, before party, before politics and before promises made,” she said, referring to Gov. Susana Martinez’s promise to not raise taxes or dip into the state’s permanent fund.

Santa Fe Public Schools parent Jaime Sowers, at podium, speaks with his son Barrett Sowers, a 6-year-old student at Acequia Madre Elementary, at a Tuesday afternoon news conference

Santa Fe Public Schools parent Jaime Sowers, at podium, speaks with his son Barrett Sowers, a 6-year-old student at Acequia Madre Elementary, at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. Superintendent Veronica Garcia, left, says Santa Fe schools may close Thursday for a ‘Day of Action’ to rally at the Roundhouse for more school funding in the state budget. (T.S. Last)

The Governor’s Office reacted strongly. “That union-backed political activists would even consider shortchanging our kids as a blatant political stunt is despicable,” the governor’s spokesman, Michael Lonergan, said in an emailed statement. “Governor Martinez is committed to protecting classroom spending, while the Senate is pushing to gut it – along with massive tax increases on our families and businesses. The Governor isn’t interested in these political games, and she won’t sign either of those.”

Grace Mayer, head of the Santa Fe teacher’s union, said at the news conference, “This is the ultimate opportunity for us to go and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ and we’re going to stand up for our kids even if the governor isn’t.” School board member Steven Carrillo declared SFPS was in a “state of emergency” because of the budget cuts.

“There’s a point at which, no matter what party somebody belongs to, but you have to come together – come together for children, the schools, and the state of New Mexico,” he said. Garcia said the news conference was called after social media exploded with rumors that there would be no school today.

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