A controversial proposal to close three Santa Fe elementary schools might not survive past the new year.
Sarah Boses and Carmen Gonzales, first-time candidates who voiced support for alternative solutions to Santa Fe Public Schools’ declining enrollment and aging buildings, breezed to victory in Tuesday night’s school board election.
Boses, an oncology nurse, defeated John Triolo, a retired educator, with nearly 68 percent of the vote in District 2, while Gonzales, an education adviser to Mayor Alan Webber, defeated two-term incumbent Steven Carrillo with 64 percent of the vote in District 1.
In District 4, incumbent Rudy Garcia won reelection unopposed with 1,259 votes.
The new board members will start four-year terms Jan. 1.
“I had parents from those schools on the chopping block reaching out to me to see how they could help and then reaching out to voters in my district asking them to support me,” said Boses, who has children at El Dorado Community School. “Parents want somebody who understands the issues that their kids are facing. What I’m here for is better representation for those people. I’ll be ready with ideas on Jan. 1.”
The current Santa Fe school board is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to begin the process of closing Acequia Madre, E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools. But Tuesday’s election means any decision to start shuttering schools will most likely be reversed when the new board members take their seats.
Maureen Cashmon, who did not run for reelection to her District 2 seat, pushed school closures onto the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting. Garcia and Lorraine Price might help her start procedures to close the three elementary schools with a 3-2 vote.
But Boses, who will fill Cashmon’s seat, Gonzales and board President Kate Noble will make up a majority of board members who have voiced opposition to closing schools in the near future.
“I would vote to reverse any decision to close schools. I imagine that issue will be one of the first actions of the new board,” Gonzales said. “I don’t know why they’re making that decision now when there’s going to be new board members in a few months.”
Triolo, Boses’ opponent in District 2, which covers Eldorado and other neighborhoods south of Interstate 25, said before Election Day that he most likely would not vote to overturn any previous decision to close schools.
In the race for District 1, which covers downtown Santa Fe and nearby east-side schools, both Gonzales and Carrillo said they would be against closing schools.
Gonzales attributed her victory to canvassing efforts and her career’s worth of experience in education, which includes time as a classroom teacher in Albuquerque and as a vice president at Santa Fe Community College and New Mexico State University.
“While canvassing, I was surprised at how many people didn’t know who their school board member was,” Gonzales said. “Once voters knew my background, I felt comfortable they saw me as qualified.”
Carrillo was first elected in 2011 and is currently the longest-tenured member on the board.
“It was a great turnout. I don’t think anybody expected that,” Carrillo said. “I wish Carmen the best. She ran a very well-organized and successful campaign.”
In February 2015, a total of 2,140 voters cast ballots in the school board election in Districts 1, 2 and 4; only Cashmon’s seat in District 2 was contested that year.
This year, a new statewide election law went into effect that consolidated school board races with City Council and other local elections onto one November ballot in odd-numbered years, with a goal of drawing more voters. Unofficial results show 7,718 voters participated in the Santa Fe school board election in the same districts.
Garcia, who was appointed to the board in December 2017 and is also a Santa Fe County commissioner, has been absent from seven of the past 17 school board meetings. But he did not draw an opponent in District 4, which covers the city’s south side.
All three of Tuesday’s winners, along with board Noble are Santa Fe High graduates, meaning four of the five board members were students in the public school system. Price used to teach in the district.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Noble said. “I think it’s great to have experienced the school system and have at your core a visceral understanding of the district. That deep cultural understanding will serve the district incredibly well.
“Now we really need to get some Capital High graduates on the school board,” she added.
Two Santa Fe Community College governing board seats also were decided Tuesday.
In Position 3, Jody Pugh, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Energy, defeated Ruth Howes, a retired physics professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, with 55 percent of the vote.
Position 5 was a three-person race between Miguel Acosta, a co-director of Santa Fe-based nonprofit Earth Care; David Dannenberg, the CEO and founder of software engineering company XformGov; and Piér Quintana, assistant director of personal and professional development at St. John’s College.
Quintana, who worked as a director of both career services and academic transitions at the community college between 2013 and 2018, won with nearly 39 percent of the vote, beating out Acosta by 457 votes.
“For me, whether it’s the budget, the staff, anything to do with administration, it all has a trickle-down effect. My focus is making sure every decision we make keeps the students as the first consideration,” Quintana said. “I had friends and a lot of support at the community college, that’s one thing that maybe helped push me across the finish line.”