Rudy Garcia is leaving the Santa Fe Board of Education, and while we wish him well in tending to his health, it’s important to note his impending resignation provides a much-needed opportunity for both his district and the city as a whole.
Garcia, who, incredibly, has held two elected offices at the same time, made all too little impact in his years on the school board. His attendance was spotty; his insight into the needs of District 4 and city education as a whole seemed negligible.
Which is unfortunate.
But that was then, and Thursday’s special meeting to create a process to find his successor is now.
What’s clear is Garcia’s south-side district, which encompasses a huge chunk of Santa Fe’s K-12 school-age population, deserves someone who will take the job seriously and do it well.
That means it is incumbent upon both the residents of the district and the four other members of the school board to work very hard to find and recruit not just qualified candidates to succeed Garcia, but exceptional people who can balance the huge needs of the area with the overall picture of K-12 education in Santa Fe.
In other words, the right candidate must care for and defend District 4, but also understand Santa Fe’s many challenges. The job requires a leader who will be vocal, thoughtful, purposeful.
When setting up guidelines to select a new board member, the board can look to avoid recent history.
It must uncover candidates who want to be school board members — just that — and who commit to serving out their terms. They might later want to run for County Commission or City Council — board members have done both — but a commitment to serve a full term would be welcome.
That means a new District 4 board member should focus on representing constituents. The job description is tough: showing up prepared for board meetings, answering questions from the community and working hard to ensure the south side has a calm, consistent voice in district policy.
This district has tough decisions ahead — the increasingly difficult tasks of balancing the budget; dealing with changing (and dwindling) student populations; recruiting and keeping teachers; improving student performance. And that’s just the start.
The board, obviously, will seek people already interested in schools — perhaps current PTA members, educators or local business owners who support learning. It doesn’t need activists with a predetermined agenda, but active community members who know Santa Fe’s children — south side, east side, north side — deserve representatives who must charge ahead on some of the district’s nagging issues.
It’s worth checking candidates to see whether they have voted in past school board and bond elections; that’s a basic level of participation.
In a district where reading and math scores are poor, where enrollment threats from charter schools are real, where finding and paying teachers against the backdrop of sky-high housing prices creates real worries about the future, Santa Fe’s board must join with Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez in creating a new picture for Santa Fe’s schools.
It’s an often thankless job, and unfortunately, there aren’t always a slew of people wanting to serve on the school board. That’s especially true now, when across the nation, school boards are becoming targets of ultrapartisan cranks who turn meetings into shouting matches.
Santa Fe is fortunate the craziness of other states — Georgia and Texas come to mind — is not intruding on local governance. But that means the vetting process for would-be candidates is essential. Board meetings, let alone policy discussions, should not become carnival sideshows.
Rather than someone who will grandstand, find a board member willing to listen and learn. Seek out a bright and dedicated individual who will represent the south side proudly. District 4 deserves the best.