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Santa Feans protest proposal to close 2 schools

Robert Valdez, left, and students, teachers, parents and family members march from E.J. Martinez Elementary to the Santa Fe Public Schools offices to protest the potential closings of Martinez and Nava Elementary. (Mark Oswald/Journal North)

Robert Valdez, left, and students, teachers, parents and family members march from E.J. Martinez Elementary to the Santa Fe Public Schools offices to protest the potential closings of Martinez and Nava Elementary. (Mark Oswald/Journal North)

SANTA FE – After staff, parents and students marched from Santa Fe’s E.J. Martinez Elementary School to the school district’s central office Monday afternoon to protest the possible closure of the school, about 50 people returned to the campus in the evening for a planned meeting put on by the school district to provide information and answer questions.

Several people were concerned about the timing, saying the decision to close E.J. Martinez and re-purpose Nava Elementary seemed rushed.

Superintendent Veronica Garcia sent a letter to parents saying that closing the schools was a possibility only last Monday. A final decision could come as soon as May 2.

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“That’s not enough time to include all the different options, whether it’s closing schools or going to four days (per week),” said parent Breshaun-B. Joyner, mentioning another option being considered. “We should not put our children’s education on the back of an arbitrary calendar.”

Garcia emphasized closing the two schools was not a certainty but one of 10 to 12 options the school district was considering in order to make ends meet. Going to a four-day school week was another, along with such things as cutting arts and music programs, physical education and athletics.

Garcia said SFPS is faced with the decision because state funding for public education is in doubt. The state Legislature approved a budget that would reduce funding to the district by about $1.5 million and “sweep” another $1.9 million from the district’s cash reserves. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the portion of the budget that funded higher education, so it’s unlikely the final budget will include increases for public schools.

“The state is in serious, serious trouble and it’s impacting the schools,” she said.

A decision has to be made soon, she said, because the school district’s budget for the 2017-2018 school year is due to be submitted to the state for approval at the end of next month.

Other people wanted to know why E.J. Martinez and not another school?

Garcia said Martinez and Nava, which would be re-purposed to house three of the district’s alternative high schools, were identified in the district’s facility master plan as being likely choices because the cost to renovate each schools would exceed 60 percent of the $24 million cost to build a new one.

Fifth-grader Ben Clark asked what would happen to his teachers if the school closed. Garcia said due to retirements and attrition throughout the district, there was a good chance they would be assigned to another school.

The school district is currently studying the academic and financial impacts closing the schools would have with the findings to be presented to the school board during a study session on April 24. The Santa Fe school board will discuss the issue at the end of its 5:30 p.m. meeting today and hold another meeting for parents and staff at Nava Elementary at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

E.J. Martinez supporters have started on online petition urging the district not to close the school at change.org.

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