If politics is a dirty business, government can be a confounding one.
Fallout from the state’s ouster of all five school board members in the tiny town of Floyd is the latest example.
The board members were suspended two months ago for rebelling against a state mandate on masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Three of the former board members of the Floyd Municipal Schools aren’t just waiting for their day in court, if they ever get one. They are running for their old seats in the November election.
Because terms are staggered, the other two board seats aren’t on the ballot this year.
All five deposed members so far have failed to regain power through a lawsuit. If litigation continues, would the three on the ballot be able to serve if they are elected?
Interested observer Stan Rounds says yes. He was appointed by the state secretary of education as sort of a temporary one-man school board for the Floyd Municipal Schools.
“The logistic of this is there will be a swearing in on Jan. 1. The three elected people will form a majority. I’ll be through at that point,” said Rounds, a former New Mexico school superintendent who is serving the Floyd district without any compensation.
The legal staff of Public Education Department offers no such certitude about who would lead the Floyd school system.
“In light of the pending legal proceedings, the PED Office of General Counsel declines to provide a response at this time to the question presented regarding the three Floyd school board members,” the agency stated Tuesday.
Lawyers need 32 words to say they’re not talking.
Floyd, 16 miles west of Portales, is a town of about 100 people. The school district is more than double that size. Rounds says Floyd has enrolled 232 area students from prekindergarten through high school.
Kids are wearing masks indoors in accordance with the state mandate. By Rounds’ estimation, the rule isn’t any great controversy for students. The Floyd Broncos upcoming football game against Gateway Christian School is a hotter topic.
Suspended school board member Charlsea Lee says the election is also low key after the first wave of complaints about local control being subverted. She isn’t campaigning hard as she runs for her old seat in a contested race.
“It’s a small enough community. I was on the board for a couple of years, and people know me,” Lee said.
She is home-schooling her daughter, a first grader who previously was enrolled in Floyd’s public schools.
Another suspended board member, Jeff Essary, also faces an opponent in the election.
Essary, 48, became the most publicized of the former board members after he contracted COVID-19 and underwent a long stay at Roosevelt General Hospital in Portales.
He had declined to be vaccinated, but then criticized the quality of care he received from the hospital. Essary apologized for his harsh words after he began to feel better.
“We all get scared when we can’t breathe,” he wrote to me while still hospitalized. “I feel humbled with my previous statements against RGH. When you’re scared, you always want better care.”
If he had been vaccinated, he might not have suffered or taken up a precious hospital bed.
Vicki Banister, the other ousted board member who’s on the ballot, is assured of victory. She faces no opposition.
Former board members said they were representing the views of their constituents by opposing the Public Education Department’s requirements. Even in a pandemic, they said, parents should decide whether their children wear a mask in a public setting.
The operation of the small district has changed since the school board’s ouster. Rounds stays in contact with the district’s two administrators, Superintendent Damon Terry and Principal Adam Terry. They are brothers.
Rounds says he’s had one hectic moment as the designated substitute for the school board. He had to sign payroll checks on a tight deadline to make sure about 30 employees of the district had money they expected deposited in their bank accounts.
The state and the five people it removed from office still have a window to reach an agreement that would end back-and-forth litigation. If that doesn’t happen by the middle of October, a court hearing will be scheduled.
In many ways, the lawsuits are a sideshow. Kids are masked up. Classes and activities are going on, almost as they were before the pandemic.
Only the school board is missing — an outcome the five members expected when they decided to freelance during a public health crisis.