Public loses if schools leader goes to Senate

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García speaks at a school board meeting in 2018. García is running as a Democrat for the Senate seat in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, where she owns a home. Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mexican file photo

Even the laziest legislators will arrive at the New Mexico Capitol by 10 a.m. during frenetic sessions when a state budget must be balanced and hundreds of other bills are considered.

Workdays often last 12 to 18 hours. Lawmakers might not head home until the predawn hours. Sleep deprivation is common, dulling judgment and leading to errors.

The hacks and posers will steal back some time by ducking tough votes or long nighttime hearings. They can always claim they had to meet with constituents.

But the better legislators work hard. They know doing a competent job during the 30- or 60-day sessions each winter requires a full commitment to business at the Capitol.

This is why it’s impossible for me to accept the claim of Veronica García, Santa Fe’s superintendent of schools, who says she could do her job well while also serving in the state Senate.

She will be haunted by her own words about the ease with which she could balance two positions with enormous responsibility.

“I’ll be here in Santa Fe checking emails, taking phone calls and waiting for people to bring me things to sign. I don’t think the district will miss a beat,” García told my colleague Dillon Mullan.

If that’s true, if a public school system with some 13,000 students can function seamlessly without the full attention of its leader, she isn’t earning her annual salary of more than $195,000.

But her district isn’t achieving at the level it should be.

Fred Nathan, who heads the public policy organization Think New Mexico, says Santa Fe’s schools need a superintendent and board members whose attention is squarely on the district.

“It’s not like SFPS is running on all cylinders,” he said.

García, 69, previously served as the state Cabinet secretary of public education and as executive director of an advocacy agency for children. She’s been in the statehouse enough to understand how demanding a good legislator’s job is.

She couldn’t participate in a legislative hearing about dangerous highways if she had to be in a backroom, taking part in a conference call with her principals about the curriculum. She couldn’t concentrate on amendments to dozens of bills if she were explaining budget considerations at a school board meeting, regardless of whether she attended in person or merely phoned in.

If García were to win election to the Legislature, she would have two distinct constituencies.

She’s running as a Democrat for the Senate seat in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, where she owns a home. The incumbent senator, Republican Mark Moores, said he looks forward to a challenge from García.

“I’d like to see a liberal Santa Fe Democrat explain how she’s going to represent a district in Albuquerque when she’s working 60 miles away,” Moores told me. “I want to know if she’s going to give up her school salary while she’s supposed to be working on legislation during the session.”

State lawmakers receive $184 a day while on official business. Moores said he and others working in the private sector lose income when the Legislature meets. He doesn’t believe someone in a public job should collect two salaries for dividing her time between jobs.

New Mexico’s Legislature has long been top-heavy with public employees from police and sheriff’s departments, local governments and especially school districts.

A handful of school superintendents have doubled as state lawmakers in recent years, often serving without distinction.

The school board in Mora hired then-state Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, as its superintendent in 2010. He ran for the state Senate two years later, losing the primary to incumbent Democrat Pete Campos.

Campos had been superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools and was president of Luna Community College when Thomas Garcia challenged him.

Years after Thomas Garcia’s defeat, a lobbyist accused him of offering to support a bill she favored, but only if she had sex with him. He said the allegation was untrue.

Campos, now retired from the community college, remains a senator. He introduces many measures of no importance that waste precious legislative time.

Campos this year sponsored a bill to establish a state chile song. He proposed a law in 2017 to create “an official state winter holiday song.”

Another superintendent who served in the Legislature was then-state Rep. Dennis Roch, a Republican, who headed small school districts in Texico and later in Logan.

The school boards Roch worked for enthusiastically supported his service in the statehouse. Why wouldn’t they? Roch, a fine orator, was a tireless advocate for rural districts. He supplied more clout than any hired lobbyist could have.

Many other school administrators and teachers have served in the Legislature. Some are still in office.

Veronica García wouldn’t be doing anything revolutionary by attempting to juggle the duties of a school superintendent with those of a legislator.

But what she wants isn’t in the public interest, not for parents, students and patrons of the Santa Fe Public Schools, and not for residents of Albuquerque.

She’s a school administrator who never learned a fundamental lesson: One big government job is more than enough for anyone.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

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(10) comments

Richard Reinders

With the schools track record it would be better for Garcia to move on, and maybe we can find someone to raise the bar.

Bernice Baca

The valid rationale for most legislators’ leaving their jobs many months each year is that a Citizen Legislature must have well-rounded representation of the citizenry. What happens too often, and not just in small states like NM, is that the same people are repeatedly chosen, or as in this case, self-choose, to be serial high-level public employees in jobs with extensive influence over the lives of or people, chiefly because they already have name recognition.

And unfortunately, when such involvement has been lengthy, accurate assessment of whether the person is in fact doing an adequate, much less exemplary, job becomes increasingly difficult to assess; it just becomes habit—a meme—to say they’re doing a good job, despite much evidence to the contrary.

If people are, satisfied that Ms. García has done an excellent job as Supt. both times around and with the other positions she filled here over many years, and think there’s not room for improvement, I say, go for it. If however, there is much work to be done here, the people of Santa Fe and Albuquerque should make their voices heard now, during the Primary election period.

The people in her home district don’t have to worry about the job she does here as Supt., (I too am shocked she still doesn’t live here) but I would want a higher level of attention representing my family than a Representative we assume, hopefully, should be putting in time and a half at their other position responsible for improving or ruining children’s lives in our extremely high-needs district.

Before Primaries come and go, as a Burqueño, I’d look outside the box of recycled public figures for a selfless Legislative candidate willing to work 100% of the time to support the important work of restoring the reputation of Government as working FOR the People.

Stefanie Beninato

I am surprised that the SFPS superintendent does not even live in Santa Fe county.

That said if all Ms Garcia does is answer emails and phone calls and sign documents, it is hard to believe she should be paid $195K. Maybe Mimi Stewart could take 1-2 months off a year from her position in the ABQ schools--but I do not see Ms Carcia serving either entity well.

Tom Aageson Aageson

If the Super has time on her hands to run for the Senate, while the school district needs more serious attention, let her go back to ABQ and find a job in education there. Or is she bored in her Super job? Then find someone who sees potential for more. Her thought process has to be questioned as well. Time for the board to take swift action and replace the Super.

Chris Mechels

The only thing Veronica has proved effective at is; shameless self promotion.

She can do that equally well from the Legislature.

James Brown

As a former superintendent in California, I find it difficult to accept the idea that a superintendent can serve simultaneously as a member of the state senate. The job of superintendent is simply put 24/7. On any given day or night there will be situations that require the direct and personal engagement of the superintendent. It's hard to imagine how those can be addressed in the midst of a legislative session. The state senate job, done properly, will demand her attention well beyond the legislative session. I respect the good work that Superintendent Garcia has done and wish her well in the future. I believe she would also be effective as a state senator. But she needs to decide to be one or the other - not both.

Jeff Varela

Veronica has done a fine job for SFPS, despite the troublesome school board. However, most public employees are prohibited from serving in the legislature and holding their public service jobs. To allow some to do so is unfair and does not leave a good perception with the public. Potential for conflict of interests draws criticism and unnecessary attention.

Craig O'Hare

We citizens in the SFPS district are paying her $195,000 per year. For that amount of money, we expect and deserve her undivided time and attention on improving our local schools - schools that continue to have a lot of room for improvement (putting it mildly). She seems to be doing a good job in that area. It would be a significant disservice to our students if she took a second job as a State Senator.

Mary Jensen

All state senators and representatives who have jobs fall under the umbrella this article paints. This is the perfect reasoning that our legislators should be full time and paid. There are very few places of employment that would release their workers for 1 to 2 months a year. With our current system in Santa Fe, we really lose out on having a broad diverse group of people representing us.

D Moran

Superintendent Garcia,

By giving your present role your full effort, you and your Santa Fe students will be happier!

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